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How to Say Selfie, Photobomb, Emoji, and Other Internet Slang in Sign Language

The ASL sign for "duck face."

Languages are never fixed, but constantly changing and adapting as new words enter into common use and the new meanings attached to old words. Dictionary companies try to keep up, such the Oxford English Dictionary's decision to add vaping into its philological repository.

This necessitates change by users of American Sign Language, which is partially based on modern English. Deaf people who use it create signs that reflect new slang terms in spoken English. Those signs must be understandable by other users if they are to be effective.

How does it work? Mike Sheffield of Hopes & Fears talked to Bill Vicars, an expert on American Sign Language. Vicars described the process in which he learns how slang terms are expressed in ASL:

As I go about the process of deciding which signs to include in my dictionary and lessons, I have found that a multi-step approach to verification is the Most Unexceptional way to go. First, I do a ‘literature review.’ I compare numerous respected sign language dictionaries and textbooks to see how the sign is demonstrated in those dictionaries. Occasionally, the dictionaries conflict with each other but eventually a dominant sign tends to emerge. After doing a thorough review of the literature it is time to interview a cross section of Deaf adults who have extensive experience signing… I make it a goal to ask a minimum of ten advanced Deaf signers how ‘they’ do it. The next stage of investigating a sign is to consider how the sign is done in other locations and decide which version is more widely used… The last stage is to post the sign online to my website where it is exposed to the scrutiny of thousands of individuals - many of whom then email me and tell me their version is better.

Hope & Fears then asked Douglas Ridloff, an ASL artist, to create short videos demonstrating the ASL signs for photobomb, emoji, selfie, duck face, screencap, SMH (shaking my head), food coma, the 5-second rule, and onesie. You can view them all here.

-via Laughing Squid


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