Geographical Representation | ASL Ponderings


New ASL ponderings! Hello and welcome. Today I want to talk about something that sometimes is confusing to ASL students. As you saw from the title, I want to talk about signs relating to geography. I sometimes will see people think that you need to sign it as the other person would see it. Actually, it’s the opposite. You sign as you would see it. Let me give you a few examples.

If you sign the compass points, they’d look something like this. North: the letter N moving in an upwards motion. South: the letter S moving in a downwards motion. Easy enough right? West: the letter W moving in a horizontal motion to your left. East: the letter E moving in a horizontal motion to your right. Same thing goes for northwest, southeast, and so on. If you’re signing, you sign what’s west and east for you, not for me. Now, there is an exception.

If you know where the directions are, you move the sign in the general direction. For example, if north was behind you, you’d sign north in a vaguely horizontal motion going in that direction, maybe over your shoulder. The rest of the signs follow the same adjustments. So if the direction is somewhat relevant to the conversation, you would be signing the actual direction. But if it’s the name of a place, a book, or something similar, default to your personal compass. For example, if the name of a book is “North Wind,” you sign North going up, not actual North.

If you’re discussing the coasts, you would use a certain handshape following the curves of the coasts. (I would recommend watching the video for this part.) Pretty simple right? This is something I accidentally cut from the video, but these signs work in an US context only.

Okay, now let’s talk about how to give directions. You always choose a starting point, maybe from where you are or from a spot that you both know. If it’s a spot you both know, once you choose a point, you make it clear which direction you’re looking. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a compass direction, but it has to be something specific so the other person can know which way to orient themselves. Then from there, you give directions. Typically, when you’ve chosen the starting point, you maintain that point with your hand. (Editor’s note: I’m not going to bother and try to explain textually a chunk that depends on you seeing the sign to understand the situation, so go watch the video for this section.) Giving directions really depends on the context, from here or from a spot you both know. Always be clear about where you’re going from, what the
spot is, and… Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification.

Okay, I think that covers the basics of geographical representation in ASL. Let me know if there’s anything that I missed in the comments, or if you learned something new today!

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Published by Rogan Shannon

Hello there! I'm Rogan, a queer deaf guy who has a passion for leadership and advocacy. I create YouTube videos about a lot of different topics - being deaf, queer, reading, language, and whatever else interests me!

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