How do you interpret numbers effectively from English to ASL? Marty Taylor has answers.
In Interpretation Skills: English to ASL, Second Edition, Marty Taylor addresses eight major features that are required to interpret effectively from English to ASL. This post focuses on #2 – Numbers.
Major Feature 2. Numbers
Key Skill 2.2: Use numbers and numbering systems accurately.
Description of the skill:
Like English, ASL has cardinal numbers (e.g., THREE balls) and ordinal numbers (e.g., the THIRD ball). In addition to these two categories of numbers, ASL has a great variety of numbering systems. Each of these numbering systems follows specific rules for producing the numbers expressed in ASL about, money, age, time, the calendar, sports and height. Assuming the number itself is produced correctly (see Key Skill 2.1, Sign the correct number), the movement, location, palm orientation, and non-manual grammatical signals also must be accurate in order for the interpretation to be accurate.
Below are several examples of numbers and numbering systems. This list is not exhaustive. ASL instructors and Deaf members of the community are excellent resources for additional specific information about how numbers and numbering systems are used locally as they relate to English to ASL interpreting and their community.
Cardinal Numbers. In Canada and the US, when numbers are in the English source text, these numbers are commonly cardinal numbers—numbers that represent a quantity. The ASL production of cardinal numbers includes a variety of consistent patterns and unique articulations.
ONE to FIVE typically are signed palm in.
SIX to NINE are signed palm out.
ELEVEN to FIFTEEN are signed palm in.
Beyond FIFTEEN, numbers are signed palm out.
TWENTY to TWENTY-NINE (except TWENTY-TWO, which is described below under “Exceptions”) are produced with an L-handshape for the initial number “two”:
TWENTY is formed with the index and thumb tapping each other, palm out.
TWENTY-ONE is formed by producing the L-handshape and wiggling the thumb, with the hand facing palm in and, often, the fingers pointing to the non-dominant side.
TWENTY-THREE to TWENTY-NINE are produced with the L-handshape changing to the second number, palm out.
TWENTY-THREE also can be articulated with the 3-handshape and the middle finger tapping forward or downward toward the floor.
TWENTY-FIVE also can be articulated with the 5-handshape and the middle finger tapping forward.
Numbers 67-69, 76-79, 86-89, and 96-99 (except double-digit numbers that repeat a digit such as 22, 33, 44, etc., which are described below under “Exceptions”):
When the second number is greater than the first number—as in SIXTY-EIGHT or SEVENTY-NINE—the movement from the first number to the second number twists slightly, moving the hand closer to the midline of the body to form the second number, meaning from right to left if using the right hand to produce the numbers, and left to right if using the left hand to produce the numbers.
When the second number is less than the first number—as in NINETY-EIGHTY, EIGHTY-SEVEN, and SEVENTY-SIX—the reverse is true: when articulating the second number, the movement, or slight twist, moves from left to right if using the right hand to produce the numbers, and from right to left if using the left hand to produce the numbers.
All double-digit numbers (except ELEVEN) that repeat a digit—such as TWENTY-TWO, THIRTY-THREE, FORTY-FOUR, etc.— are produced palm down.
The number ELEVEN does not change its articulation; it remains a single index finger flicking open and closed, palm in.
Cardinal numbers often are used in naming or identifying objects and places. When interpreting the phrase “Interstate 5,” the interpreter produces INTERSTATE or HIGHWAY, followed by FIVE with a shaking movement, fingers pointing forward, or sometimes pointing upward.
Series of numbers. A series of numbers—such as a telephone number, credit card number, or social security number—is produced with the palm out throughout the signing of the sequence of numbers. For example, when signing the phone number “888-976-0487,” the palm should face out for all numbers even though cardinal numbers ONE to FIVE normally would be produced with the palm in.
Ordinal numbers. Ordinal numbers rank things, and are either temporal (chronological sequencing) or spatial (physical ordering). An example of temporal ordering is when talking about which event occurred when. The ordinal numbers FIRST, SECOND, and THIRD are produced using a twist from palm out to palm in, and articulated progressively from closer-to to farther away from the interpreter’s body (following a timeline from close in time to further away in time), so that THIRD is the farthest away. Or, the numbers can also be produced across the signing space, from the non-dominant to the dominant side, resembling a left to right timeline for right-handed interpreters or a right to left timeline for left-handed interpreters.
Spatial ordering is used in presenting items in their rank order —for example, FIRST-PLACE through NINTH-PLACE are produced beginning at the midline of the body with the palm in, the extended finger(s) forming the number, pointing to the non-dominant side, and then drawn horizontally across the body toward the interpreter’s dominant side, maintaining the same palm orientation. FIRST-PLACE is produced in a slightly higher location than SECOND-PLACE. SECOND-PLACE is produced slightly higher than THIRD-PLACE and so on. However, if the interpretation deals with place-winners who are physically situated in a particular way, then the ordinal numbers are produced in a corresponding spatial arrangement. For example, the three top-placing athletes for any given Olympic competition are arranged on a podium with the gold medal winner (first place) in the middle, silver (second place) on the viewers’ left, and bronze (third place) on the viewers’ right; in the interpretation, each of these signs is articulated in the relative space corresponding to where the medalist is located. It is important to note that in this example, FIRST-PLACE, SECOND-PLACE, and THIRD-PLACE are still produced in higher to lower locations.
Ordinal numbers also are used in ASL when interpreting a speaker’s comments about, for example, working on the FIFTH or the SECOND floor, The number is produced with a shaking movement, fingers pointing forward, or sometimes pointing upward. Numbers higher than NINE usually are repeated rather than using a shaking movement. For example, when talking about the “16th” floor,” the interpretation would be FLOOR SIXTEEN++.
Money. Dollar figures from ONE-DOLLAR to NINE-DOLLAR are produced from palm out to palm in, with one large circular movement conveying the meaning of “dollars”; The sign for DOLLAR should not be produced. If it is signed, it would be considered redundant information and therefore inaccurate.
For example, if the discussion includes “cents” along with dollar amounts from ONE-DOLLAR to NINE DOLLAR—e.g., “six dollars and 87 cents,” the ASL convention is to sign SIX- DOLLAR-EIGHTY-SEVEN; note that the production of SIX-DOLLAR is produced immediately followed by EIGHTY-SEVEN. Signs for DOLLAR and CENT are not produced because the meaning is already included in the production of the sign.
By contrast, when a dollar figure is ten dollars or higher, the sign MONEY can precede the signing of the amount to indicate that the discussion is about money. Signs related to money are produced following the rules for signing cardinal numbers, preceded by the sign DOLLAR.
When an amount of money is above ten dollars and includes cents, the dollar amount is followed by DECIMAL-POINT to indicate the decimal; for example, “$11.05” is signed beginning with MONEY or DOLLAR, followed by ELEVEN DECIMAL-POINT ZERO FIVE.
If only “cents” are discussed, the articulation of the sign begins at the forehead. The sign for CENT can be produced in a couple of ways:
with the index finger touching the forehead, followed by the number while pulling away and downward from the head: ONE-CENT (palm in), FIVE-CENT (palm in), TEN-CENT, TWENTY-FIVE-CENT, or FIFTY-CENT;
starting with the number itself for these same numbers that have or have had coins in these numerical values and then adding CENT.
NOTE: To interpret amounts between one cent and ninety-nine cents, the interpreter touches the side of his index finger to his forehead, and produces the cardinal number while moving the finger forward, away from the forehead.
Age. When signing numbers related to age, the sign OLD often is produced prior to the number. Numbers ONE to NINE are produced with the palm out and can either be prefaced by OLD (formal), or more commonly produced with the index finger of the formed numbers touching the chin and then moving forward slightly (for NINE, the tip of the middle finger touches the chin). All age numbers are produced palm out, except ELEVEN through FIFTEEN, which are produced palm in, and double digits such as TWENTY-TWO and THIRTY-THREE, which are produced palm down, parallel with the floor.
Time. Times (e.g., THREE-O’CLOCK) are produced on the back of the non-dominant wrist, where one would commonly wear a watch, in one of the three following ways:
Produce TIME on the back of the wrist, followed by the number, produced palm out (except numbers “11” to “12” which are produced, as always, palm in).
Retain the handshape for the number (ONE to NINE) and touch the back of the wrist with the tip of the index finger. (The thumb is often the contact point for TIME-THREE, TIME-FIVE and TIME-SIX to TIME-NINE.)
The inside of the wrist on the dominant hand forming the number can also be the point of contact for numbers ONE to NINE.
Calendar. Calendar items DAY, WEEK, and MONTH are signed using an extended index finger. YEAR is produced using two fists or S-handshapes, with the dominant hand circling the non-dominant hand once.
Sports. When interpreting the scores of two teams, the signing of the first number should be on the non-dominant side of the signing space, and the second number on the dominant side, commonly with the palm in while producing both numbers when the numbers are small, as in soccer and hockey. When the speaking participant is identifying with one of the teams, the score of the favored team is signed close to the center of the chest, palm in, and the second score is signed forward from the body, often signed with two hands simultaneously. The score of the team that is in the lead, or has won, is produced first and is articulated in a slightly higher space. Number signs for higher scores (as occurs in basketball) are produced palm out and positioned directly in front of the body if one is supporting the team and then moves forward when giving the score of the opposing team. If no favorite team is expressed in the utterance, then the numbers are provided moving from the non-dominant side to the dominant side.
When identifying a team member by her number, the number is produced on the chest for baseball, basketball, and football, and on the non-dominant upper arm for hockey (literally representing the numbers on players’ shirts). NOTE: Produce a player’s jersey number palm in, even for numbers such as SEVENTEEN.
Height. In a discussion about a person’s height, numbers representing both feet and inches are signed palm in, often preceded by the sign TALL. When interpreting the height of a 6’9” basketball player, the first number, representing feet (SIX), is articulated with the palm in and held near the interpreter’s forehead, then the number representing inches (NINE) moves outward and slightly upward, but still palm in.
The location of signing should be congruent with the interpreter’s height and the height being conveyed. An interpreter who is shorter than six feet would likely sign SIX-FEET-ONE-INCH at head level or above. There are numerous exceptions to this because the interpreter might want to modify the sign for the sake of humor, as well as for accuracy. For example, when a 6’7” basketball player in a group of players over 7’ is being teased, the average-height interpreter could move the sign from his forehead to a lower position out in front of him, conveying teasing and humor as if to suggest the meaning, “Six feet seven inches is ridiculously short compared to the other players, who are over seven feet tall.”
Non-manual signals. In addition to producing the correct number and using the correct numbering system, the interpreter must also use non-manual signals that agree with the production of the numbers and the context. For example, when interpreting an utterance about a 7’ 2’’ man, the interpreter will not only produce the number signs in a high location, but his eye gaze also will be directed at this same location—not straight ahead, and not down low. In an interpretation about the very close scores of two teams playing a basketball game, the non-manual signal, eyes open wide ‘intense’ is used while signing the scores of each team as they increase, indicating the closeness of the match.
Contextualizing numbers. ASL numbers often are contextualized by indicating the noun that is discussed, such as YEAR, HIGHWAY, MONEY, FLOOR, BASEBALL, and COST prior to articulating the number(s). For example:
MONEY, FIFTY-FOUR DOLLAR
BASEBALL, THREE ‘on left’ THREE ‘on right’
COST, TWENTY DOLLAR
Possible Errors 2.2a Uses the wrong numbering system (e.g., producing the ordinal sign FIRST when interpreting “Here is one example,” rather than producing the cardinal number ONE).
2.2b Uses inaccurate palm orientation (e.g., incorrectly articulates the height with the palm out, rather than with the palm in).
2.2c Uses inaccurate movement (e.g., a right-handed interpreter incorrectly articulates the phone number “800-376-9385” with the hand moving right to left, instead of either remaining stationary or moving slightly from left to right.)
2.2d Locates numbers inaccurately (e.g., incorrectly signs the jersey number, NINETY-NINE, for the hockey star Wayne Gretzky on the chest where it would be articulated for a football player, rather than on the non-dominant upperarm, where it would be articulated correctly for a hockey player).
2.2e Articulates numbers in space inaccurately (e.g., signs FIRST-PLACE and SECOND-PLACE in the same spatial location, rather than producing FIRST-PLACE in a slightly higher location than the production of SECOND-PLACE).
2.2f Uses inaccurate non-manual signals with the number (e.g., does not move the eyes to follow the lower spatial location of the second number when signing FIRST-PLACE and THIRD-PLACE, rather than moving the eyes down to follow the lower location of THIRD-PLACE).
2.2g Does not include contextualization prior to signing numbers (e.g., produces numbers prior to indicating to what the number refers, or makes no reference at all, rather than signing BASEBALL FOUR‘ left’ ZERO ‘right’).