An excerpt from Interpretation Skills: English to ASL Second Edition by Marty M. Taylor, PhD.
Key Skill 5.6: Use accurate non-manual signals when structuring space. Pages 146-148.
Description of the skill: In addition to placing things and people in space and signing on the body at the correct location, the interpreter must accurately use non-manual signals corresponding to the structuring of space. Often non-manual signals co-occur when structuring space. Non manual signals while structuring space include eye gaze, mouth morphemes, head movements and orientation, and body leaning and orientation.
Eye gaze. The eyes are used along with space to provide a great deal of information. Eyes are opened widely when, for example, expressing shock about a dog falling through the ice on the frozen lake. Squinting is used when talking about someone or something in the distance, such as a football down on the field seen from the perspective of the top row of the stadium bleachers. Eye gaze is used when talking about something significant, such as the peculiar angle at which a car has come to a stop following a car crash; the eye gaze is directed at the classifier representing the car. A quick glance at the location in space is used, instead of gazing, if the location or the angle of the parked car is not significant—for example, when the car is parked out front of the office building. Eye gaze follows the movement of directional verbs in space toward the referent, as is the case with SENT-TO, GIVE-TO, and INFORM-YOU. For example, when interpreting “the operation on my left shoulder,” the interpreter must gaze or glance at her left shoulder at the same time OPERATE is produced on the shoulder. In this manner the non-manual signal agrees with the specificity of the body-anchored verb.
Mouth Morphemes. Mouth morphemes modify ASL adjectives and adverbs. A mouth morpheme must be used whenever its meaning is necessary in describing an object or an action when structuring space. For example, the mouth morpheme cha ‘very large’ must accompany the interpretation of a “very long limousine” in order to describe the length of the limousine. The mouth morpheme oo ‘thin’ is used when talking about a “very thin layer of mold around the bathtub” in order to describe “very thin.” Without these ASL modifiers the meaning is incomplete and therefore inaccurate.
Head movement and orientation. When the referent is a person who is looking for something that has fallen to the floor near one’s feet, the interpreter lowers her head while looking at the floor. When the referent is looking to the left or the right, the interpreter moves her head in the same direction. If the referent is looking at something that is high up in the air, the interpreter’s head moves back and up. When the referent is a person, place, or thing that is oriented at a particular angle, the interpreter often holds her head at the same angle (within reason).
Body leaning and orientation. Body leaning and orientation co-occur with signing, especially when structuring space and establishing referents in space. When the referent enters a low entrance to a cave, the body leans forward while signing ENTER. If the entrance to the cave immediately curves to the right, the interpreter will orient her body to the right. If a tall person is getting into a small car on the passenger’s side, the interpreter will hunch her shoulders, lean her body to the left while signing “getting into the car on the passenger’s side.” If the person has to climb into the back seat of a two-door car, the interpreter leans her body farther forward and changes her orientation slightly to convey that the referent is getting into the car’s back seat (rather than the front seat) on the passenger’s side.
5.6a Uses inaccurate eye gaze (e.g., inaccurately directs eye gaze away from the location where OPERATE-ON-ARM is being produced, rather than gazing toward the location where OPERATE- ON-ARM is being produced).
5.6b Uses inaccurate mouth morphemes (e.g., inaccurately uses th ‘carelessly’ when signing OPERATION-ON-FINGER, rather than using the correct mouth morpheme pursed lips ‘carefully’).
5.6c Uses inaccurate head movement (e.g., inaccurately moves the head up and down when signing SEARCH to express the meaning of “searching for a small boy in the swimming pool,” rather than moving the head slightly left to right and following the sign SEARCH, which is articulated in one restricted area where a pool has been established in space).
5.6d Uses inaccurate head orientation (e.g., inaccurately orients the head to the right when referring to something already established in space on the left, rather than orienting the head toward the space already established on the left).
5.6e Uses inaccurate body leaning (e.g., inaccurately leans forward when signing about the location of the stars in the sky, rather than accurately leaning slightly backward with the head facing upward).
5.6f Uses inaccurate body orientation (e.g., inaccurately turns toward the speaker while she is describing a diagram, rather than accurately turning toward the diagram on the wall).
NOTE: Although non-manual signals are described here as discrete elements, they co-occur with one another as well as with all aspects of using space in ASL. For example, when the source message is about looking at something very carefully, the interpreter’s eye gaze, articulation of mouth morphemes, head movement and orientation, body leaning and orientation, all co-occur, oriented toward that which is being looked at very carefully, providing congruent and consistent information.
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