|The American Sign Language Handshape Dictionary|
From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
Since William Stokoe’s research was published in 1960, academic interest in American Sign Language (ASL) and related pedagogy has come a long way. According to the Modern Language Association’s report on Enrollments in Languages Other Than English in United States Institutions of Higher Education, ASL is ranked fourth in the category of “most enrolled language in higher education.” Although this is welcoming news, there is still a huge gap between theory and practical application of teaching ASL. More research is needed to bring theory and application closer together in the field of ASL pedagogy. The revised and updated ASL dictionary by Tennant and Brown helps to fill the gap.
This revised ASL dictionary is organized by ASL handshapes, in contrast to most ASL dictionaries that are in English alphabetical word order. Although other parameters of ASL are included for each sign, such as palm orientation, location, movement, and some non-manual signals, this dictionary is mainly arranged based on the shape of the hands themselves. In most other sign language dictionaries, English words, or glosses, are often referenced. In contrast, the goal of Tennant and Brown is to educate how to locate a sign based on the shape of the hand in morphological order and without direct reference to English glosses. Clearly, this reference book will be a significant contribution to the field of ASL pedagogy.
Tennant and Brown through their previous original exemplary work have now raised the bar even higher. In this second edition, readers have access to over 1,900 signs, including 320 new signs, and a DVD. There are at least 40 different basic handshapes featured in the dictionary. Furthermore, the handshapes are categorized into one-hand signs and two-hand signs. In theone-hand signs category, the signs are divided and listed in the order of: signs that are formed in space and do not touch the body, signs that touch the body, and signs that are formed on the head or neck and/or torso. Within the two-hand signs category, there are several groups listed in the ordering of: hands that have the same handshapes and move simultaneously, hands that have the same handshapes and move alternatingly, hands that have the same handshapes but only the dominant hand moves, hands that have different handshapes and the order is determined by the passive hand, and finally, hands that have the same handshapes but change to new handshapes.
The DVD with tutorial shows an appreciation for diversity and pluralism in signers. Although the dictionary naturally offers two-dimensional diagrams, the DVD gives viewers and new sign language learners an opportunity to see how each sign is formed. Using this dictionary allows readers to learn more about the parameter of each sign. The combination of both the book and the DVD proves to be an effective tool for sign language students who want to learn the basic linguistic component (parameter) of each sign in depth on their own.
Every student of ASL should have this book. It would also be an excellent reference book for deaf students who want to create ABC stories, a popular form of ASL storytelling. Although this is a new “dictionary” concept based on the shapes of hands, it could be more reader-friendly, perhaps with an interactive approach. Also, this unique approach might lead to future ASL dictionaries categorized and based on other parameter groups and ASL linguistic features, such as movement, location, palm orientation, and non-manual signals.
Richard Tennant is a former mathematics teacher who has studied American Sign Language extensively and now resides in Acra, NY.
Marianne Gluszak Brown is an American Sign Language Teacher’s Association (ASLTA) professionally certified interpreter and a child of deaf parents (coda) who works in Palisades, NY.
ISBN 978-1-56368-444-9, 7 x 10 casebound, 462 pages, sign illustrations, index, DVD
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