It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It

Politeness in American Sign Language

First Edition

By Jack Hoza

Categories: Linguistics
Imprint: Gallaudet University Press
Hardcover : 9781563683527, 248 pages, May 2007
Ebook : 9781563683848, 248 pages, September 2009
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Hoza uses variables in how English speakers and native ASL signers express politeness as a comparison of the two language communities’ styles.



The general stereotype regarding interaction between American Sign Language and English is a model of oversimplification: ASL signers are direct and English speakers are indirect. Jack Hoza’s study It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It: Politeness in American Sign Language upends this common impression through an in-depth comparison of the communication styles between these two language communities. Hoza investigates relevant social variables in specific contexts and explores the particular linguistic strategies ASL signers and English speakers employ when they interact in these contexts.
It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It is framed within politeness theory, an apt model to determine various interpretations of what speakers or signers mean in respect to the form of that which they say or sign. The variations reveal how linguistic and cultural differences intersect in ways that are often misinterpreted or overlooked in cross-cultural communication. To clarify these cross-linguistic differences, this volume explores two primary types of politeness and the linguistic strategies used by English speakers and ASL signers to express politeness concerns in face-to-face interaction. Hoza’s final analysis leads to a better understanding of the rich complexity of the linguistic choices of these language groups.


Jack Hoza is Director of the Sign Language Interpretation Program at the University of New Hampshire, Manchester, NH.



"A scholarly text ideal for intermediate to advanced linguistic students and scholars, It’s Not What You Sign, It’s How You Sign It is a welcome contribution to language and communication studies shelves."


— The Midwest Book Review

"Provides an excellent framework for studying this very intriguing topic and reveals some fascinating examples of how people use ASL to negotiate difficult interactions."

— Geoffrey S. Poor, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education

"Debunks the myth that ASL signers are always necessarily more direct than English speakers in their communication style. The book is written in an easy-to-understand style, and the pictures of the nonmanual signals are clear and easy to follow. Highly recommended."

— J. F. Andrews, Lamar University, CHOICE