A Comparison of Non-Manual Signals Among Hearing, Hard of Hearing and Deaf Signers


Ruth Tamar Jackson, Rebecca Orton and Peter Un




This research compares non-manual signals (NMS) usage among Hearing informants, Hard of Hearing informants that are late learners of sign language, and Deaf informants that are all native signers of ASL. The results may tell us whether NMS are incorporated into the sign language of non-native users. This information would have ramifications. If non-native users of ASL can be taught NMS, then the education system should redouble its efforts to make sure that this is done. ASL is not a complete language without the use of NMS.




The hypothesis that we are trying to investigate is in equations (1) - (3) and summarized in equation (4) in Figure 1 below. Hearing informants are represented by 'H', Hard of Hearing as 'HOH', and Deaf as 'D'. Hearing informants are defined as those that are hearing and are late learners of ASL or contact sign. Hard of Hearing informants are defined as those that have a hearing loss and are late learners of ASL. Deaf informants are defined as those that are native signers of ASL. The equations signify the following relative amounts of NMS. Deaf people drops the least NMS. Hard of Hearing people drops some NMS. Hearing people drops the most NMS.


(1) D > H

(2) D > HOH

(3) HOH > H

(4) D > HOH > H (in summary)


Figure 1 - Equations regarding the amount of NMS expected in three groups, Deaf (D), Hard of Hearing (HOH), and Hearing (H).


This hypothesis D > HOH > H is basically implying three things. First, the Deaf group is natively skilled in NMS, and has the most hearing loss. Second, the Hard of Hearing group is not natively skilled in NMS, and has some hearing loss. Third, the Hearing group is not natively skilled in NMS, and does not have any hearing loss. There is nothing unusual about this particular hypothesis. It would only be natural to expect that Hard of Hearing people would become more fluent in NMS use than Hearing people because they have some hearing loss and as a result are more visually oriented.


This suggests that there is a relationship between NMS fluency and hearing loss. That relationship is that the degree of fluency in NMS would be indirectly proportional to the degree of hearing loss. If hearing loss is indeed a factor, then, by extrapolation, NMS use would never be native-like in the Hearing or the Hard of Hearing groups. The Hearing group does not have anything in their favor that would have helped in becoming fluent in NMS. The Hard of Hearing group has some hearing loss in their favor in becoming fluent in NMS. The Deaf group has the most hearing loss by a matter of degree, and are already natively skilled in NMS.

Why We are Examining this Hypothesis


This hypothesis is saying that NMS can only be learned natively as part of a first language by people with the most hearing loss. NMS taught during second language acquisition of sign language would never become native-like among people with full hearing or with some hearing loss. Results may confirm that fully fluent NMS can only be learned natively as part of a first language, or if NMS fluency can indeed be achieved during second language acquisition of sign language.


Either way, NMS should be explicitly taught to sign language students. It is possible that the phrase "nonmanual signals" is not known to a typical sign language student with mediocre motivation and limited resources. That NMS perform grammatical functions in natural sign languages is in general not widely known (Taub 1997:45). If signers are unaware of the significance of NMS, there may be a possible breakdown in communication. English is explicitly taught to children in public school over many years as a requirement even for native speakers, but ASL is not. ASL is taught optionally to those students that want to learn ASL and only for a short time. A student with a heavily vested interest in ASL would have to strive for many years to learn ASL fluently as a second language. Even native ASL signers may not be aware of all the grammatical functions of a natural sign language. Being a native signer or speaker does not guarantee full knowledge and understanding of that natural language and its grammar.


Literature Review


Natural sign languages, such as ASL, involve not just the arms and hands, but the whole body and face. Baker and Padden (1978:27-57) mention that in sign languages, there are five different channels of communication: (1) hands and arms, (2) head nods, shakes, and tilts, (3) facial expressions including emotions, (4) eye gaze and blinks, which will be described in more detail below, and (5) body posture, torso twisting, or body shifting which may include stepping to the side. These five channels of communication have different functions but interact together in concert to communicate the full meaning intended. For example, Wilbur (1994:221-240) mentions that NMS produced on the mouth and the lower half of the face perform lexical or semantic functions. These so called modifiers provide adjectival and adverbial information that modifies the meaning of the ASL noun or verb. In contrast, NMS produced on the eyebrows and the upper half of the face, as well as head nods and body movement, perform grammatical or prosodic functions (Wilbur 1994:221-240).


Wilbur (1994:221-240) says that "the prosody of ASL is carried by nonmanual signals...". In other words, NMS also perform the some of the same functions as voice inflection. For example, emotions are conveyed through the voice and on the face as well, but may not be considered part of the grammar. Another function of prosody that is part of grammar occurs when a question is being asked. In spoken English, the voice rises towards the end of the question. There is parallel NMS in ASL for questions. While a question is being signed in ASL, raised eyebrows indicates a question is being asked where an answer is simply a 'yes' or a 'no' (Baker-Shenk 1983:76, Liddell 1980:20, Wilbur 1994:221-240). This NMS is called a 'Y/N question' NMS or just 'question' NMS.


A question is one type of a sentence. The function that voice inflection and question NMS perform applies to the whole sentence syntactically. Individual words and signs perform other directly assignable syntactical functions like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. The functions these words and signs perform also fall under the syntactical category but as components of the sentence. There are other categories that these words and signs could fall under, like lexical, morphological, and discourse markers. According to Robert E. Johnson (p.c. 1998), there are four different kinds of NMS: lexical, morphological (or modifiers), syntactical, and discourse markers. One possible definition proposed for NMS is a definition based on these categories. For example, NMS are those facial expressions, head movement, eye gaze, and body shifting that are used to express lexical, morphological, and syntactical meanings in natural sign languages or that are functioning as discourse markers regulating conversation.


How are NMS Categorized?


Lexical items correspond roughly to the notion of 'word' or 'sign'. Lexical NMS are those found within a single sign, or produced alone without any associated sign. Morphological items are those that add extra meaning to other signs or sign phrases. Morphological NMS are those found in ASL inflections, such as the protracted-inceptive, unrealized inceptive aspect, and iterative inflections. Modifiers are mostly mouth configurations, and could be categorized as lexical (Wilbur 1994:222), morphological (Baker-Shenk 1983:64, Davies 1983), or syntactical but will be treated separately. Modifiers are difficult to categorize because they can perform lexical, morphological and syntactic functions depending on one's point of view. A modifier can perform a lexical function by modifying the meaning of a single sign. But modifiers are usually considered to be morphological in function. Modifiers also perform syntactical functions by modifying the meanings of ASL noun or verb phrases like adjectives and adverbs do. Syntactical components are those ordered groupings of items required to produce a grammatical well-formed sentence, like noun phrases, verb phrases, adjectives, adverbs, etc. Syntactical items are different types of sentence forms such as assertations, questions, conditionals, etc. Syntactical NMS are those NMS that are required to produce different types of sentence forms, like those already mentioned for syntactical items. Discourse markers are those items used by the receiver to regulate conversation. NMS used as discourse markers are those NMS produced by the receiver as feedback. These categories of NMS as well as eyeblinks, other kinds of head nods, eye gaze, and head tilts will be described in further detail below.


Lexical NMS


In ASL, there are a few pairs of signs that are distinguished only by NMS. These 'minimal pairs' are so named because only one feature, in this case, NMS, has contrastive meaning. Every other feature of these minimal pairs are identical. Taub (1997:46-48) states that the ASL signs NOT-YET and LATE only differ in their NMS. The sign NOT-YET has a NMS of a protruding tongue and headshake, and LATE does not (Baker 1976, Taub 1997:46-48, Liddell 1980:17-18). Another example of a minimal pair is UNEXPECTEDLY and WRONG. UNEXPECTEDLY has NMS of raised eyebrows, widened eyes, and mouth-opening jaw drop, WRONG does not (Baker 1976, Taub 1997:3). Clearly, NMS cannot be considered as supplemental to the sign in some cases. Instead, the NMS is vital to distinguishing between two otherwise identical signs.


Baker (1976) mentions a few NMS with no associated signs. MENSTRUAL-PERIOD has NMS of puffed cheeks. DO-YOU-WANNA-HAVE-INTERCOURSE? has NMS of a tongue pushing out the cheek. OH-WHY-NOT? has NMS of the head tilted to the side, a puffed cheek and then release. OH-DEFINITELY-YES! has NMS of the head tilted to the side, closed eyes, and the mouth in an 'O' shape. THAT'S-REALLY-INTERESTING has NMS of an open mouth, then tightly closed lips, half-closed eyelids, and a slowing nodding head.




Some ASL inflections also have NMS. For example, the protracted-inceptive (PI) inflection has a horizontal tongue waggle in certain cases. This PI inflection means a "protracted beginning" of the action (Taub 1997:53). If the handshape is an open five handshape where fingers could wiggle, then that finger wiggling is used instead of the tongue waggle (Taub 1997:53-54).


Liddell (1984:257-270) analyzed an unrealized inceptive aspect inflection meaning "JUST AS (subject) WAS ABOUT TO BEGIN (action)." Liddell found that this inflection has the NMS which he called 'CURB' (Chest Up Rotate Back) and a forward counter rotation which may or may not be a variant of CURB. Specifically, the CURB NMS is described as a torso twist to one side while inhaling, and then freezing at the point where the chest and shoulders are raised. Eye gaze is also significant, referring to the object of the action in question (Liddell 1984:267).


Another example, currently under discussion by Liddell's ASL morphology class is the iterative inflection meaning "over and over again" (Klima & Bellugi 1979:294). One possible production of this iterative inflection uses head nods and an associated NMS called STA-STA. This STA-STA NMS is mouthed 'sta'...'sta' with each head nod downward. These NMS within inflections would fall under the morphological category since inflections, in general, are considered to be morphological.




Davies (1983) mentions that lateral and vertical tongue flapping carries two associated meanings. The first meaning is intense enthusiasm and excitement. The second meaning is extensive time or distance. It is not clear which of the two different ways to flap the tongue has the first meaning and the second meaning. According to Lynn Jacobowitz (p.c. 1998), vertical tongue flapping is rarely seen, and may mean 'hurry' when used with the sign LOOK. The horizontal tongue flapping can be used for both the first and second meanings. However, it is clear that tongue flapping functions like a modifier.


Liddell (1980:42-47) also mentions several other modifiers. The NMS 'mm' is described as 'keeping the lips together and pushing them out without puckering.' This NMS means either 'with relaxation and enjoyment' or 'normal and proper' depending on the context. The 'mm' NMS can also be used by the receiver as a discourse marker to indicate that what was being signed was expected and normal (Baker-Shenk 1983:68).


The NMS 'th' means lack of control, inattention, unintention, and unawareness (Liddell 1980:50-52). The NMS 'th' is produced by pushing the lips out with a protruding tongue into a 'th' configuration where the upper lip is slightly curled upward, and the head is tilted (Liddell 1980:50-52). The 'th' NMS can also be used as discourse marker by the receiver to indicate that the subject of the conversation is 'really out of it' (Baker-Shenk 1983:68).


The NMS 'cs' means proximity in either a temporal or spatial way (Liddell 1980:47-50). This NMS 'cs' is described in great detail:


"...when recency is being contrasted with a much greater period of time (e.g. not last week - just recently), the signer's head leans and turns toward the side of the body on which RECENTLY is being made, and the shoulder on that side (or both sides) is being pulled forward and raised; the facial expression is also made more intense by a greater contraction of the same facial muscles...all this activity brings the cheek and shoulder closer together (hence the notation 'cs')."(Liddell 1980:47)


The facial expression referred to in this quote is similar to what happens to the lips when talking out of the side of your mouth.


Syntactic NMS


Wilbur (1994:221-240) noticed that the eyebrows perform syntactic functions for most sentence structures in ASL, except for assertations (or declaratives). Wilbur did not mention another sentence structure, negation, in her research which may involve the eyebrows as well. Assertations have mostly head nods associated with them (Baker-Shenk 1983:82).


The yes/no question has NMS of raised eyebrows, widened eyes, head tilt forward, torso shift forward, and eyegaze to the receiver (Baker-Shenk 1983:76, Liddell 1980:20, Wilbur 1994:221-240). The rhetorical question has NMS of raised eyebrows, head tilt, and eyegaze to the receiver (Baker-Shenk 1983:79, Wilbur 1994:221-240).


The topic part in topicalized sentences has NMS of raised eyebrows, slight backward head tilt, and constant eyegaze to the receiver (Baker-Shenk 1983:88, Liddell 1980:22, Wilbur 1994:221-240). The 'if' portion of the conditional has NMS of raised eyebrows (or squinted under some circumstances), head tilt, and torso shift (Baker-Shenk 1983:90, Wilbur 1994:221-240).


Wh-questions are those questions asking who, what, where, when, why, and how. The wh-questions has NMS of squinted eyebrows, head tilt, torso shift forward, and eyegaze to the receiver (Baker-Shenk 1983:78, Wilbur 1994:221-240). Negation has NMS of squinted eyebrows, side-to-side headshake, wrinkled nose, raised upper lip, and a frown (Bahan 1996:340, Baker-Shenk 1983:80).


Liddell (1980:23) found that there are indeed restrictive relative clauses in ASL. A restrictive relative clause is a form of syntactic subordination of sentences. These relative clauses have NMS associated with them: brow raise, head tilted back, and raised upper lip.


Discourse Markers


Discourse markers are those things the receiver says or does as back channel feedback to indicate the receiver is understanding the signer while the signer is talking or signing at the same time. Examples of spoken discourse markers are when an English speaker nods and says 'uh-huh', 'hmmm', 'really?' or 'yeah?'. Examples of manual ASL discourse markers are OH-I-SEE (a nodding Y hand), KNOW, and REALLY (Collins & Petronio 1998:22). Examples of NMS used for back channel feedback are head nods, head tilts, brow raises, and nose-twitching in UH-HUH (Baker-Shenk 1983:68, Collins & Petronio 1998:3).




In the proposed definition, eyeblinks would not be considered NMS even though they do have linguistic functions. For example, boundary eye blinks mark the end of ASL syntactic phrases. In the linguistics field, these syntactic phrases are called 'ungoverned maximal projections' (Wilbur 1994:221-240). Eyeblinks also function as cues for the receiver to pay special attention to, for example, the fingerspelling of "difficult or unusual" words (Wilbur 1994:221-240). Eyeblinks may function as emphasis to lexical signs themselves. Statistics show that eyeblinks during lexical signs last longer than those marking boundaries (Wilbur 1994:221-240). However, blinking in general is affected by a variety of physiological, perceptual, emotional, cognitive, as well as linguistic functions (Wilbur 1994:223). Eyeblinks will be excluded from our study because they are not under complete and solely linguistic control.


Head Nods


Two types of head nods are considered to be NMS that are labeled as "_hn" by Liddell (1980:29-38). The first type is used for emphasis, and the second type as an existential predicate where there is a subject with no verb in a main clause (Liddell 1980:29-38). Liddell mentions other types of head nods used for other functions and these are described as follows. A head dip or slight lowering of the eyes are used in an affirmative response to a question. A head dip is also used to indicate a first person subject in a sentence with no overt subject (Liddell 1980:27, Stokoe 1960:64).


Rapid slight head nods are used to insert a parenthetic clarification regarding the subject in the middle of the sentence. Linguists call such clarifications 'appositives' or 'reduced nonrestrictive relative clauses' (Liddell 1980:24-25). This kind of head nod distinguishes between appositives (with head nods) and possessive statements (without head nods) in ASL that are made typically in English with an apostrophe 's'.


Two other kinds of head nods are fast head nods to assert something is true when it has been claimed that it is not, and those emphatic head nods appearing inside clauses (Baker-Shenk 1983:86-87, Liddell 1980:27-29). These kinds of head nods are often accompanied by tight lips which also emphasizes that something is true, or indicates that 'I really mean it' in commands (Baker-Shenk 1983:85-86).


Another kind of head nod is used for role playing and has other associated features: nonneutral facial activity maintained and no eye contact (Liddell 1980:25-26). This kind of head nod is used when the signer first takes on a role. This head nod serves as a signal and occurs after the person being role played (or imitated) is named.


Eye Gaze and Head Tilts


Baker-Shenk (1983:74) found that eyegaze and head tilts play a role when setting up referents in space, and when making pronominal or deictic references to these spatial locations. Bahan (1996) researched these two referential types of NMS and found that they perform specialized referential functions in ASL. That is, the default subject is referred to when the head is in neutral position. An overt subject is referred to when the head is tilted. The object is referred to with eye gaze. Other associated NMS like body lean, eye gaze, etc. also indicate subject and object referents with regard to classifier predicates.




Each member of the research team was responsible for one category of informants of which there were three; hearing informants, hard of hearing informants that are late learners of ASL, and deaf informants that are all native signers of ASL. Each team member obtained permission to videotape the clients, videotaped them and had them fill out a survey. Each informant had an ASL competency of at least level 5, as designated by Gallaudet University in ASL evaluations.


For gathering data, we began with a survey which obtained information regarding if the informant could participate, demographic information, family background, signing experience, and any other considerations they felt were important in regards to their signing skills.


Regarding the survey requirements we asked what level of ASL the informant was evaluated at. We also asked what level of English literacy was achieved in school as well as the level of formal schooling achieved. The main reason for these specific survey requirements was to ensure that clients would be able to comprehend both the ASL story and the English book used for the research.


Demographic information which we obtained included place and year of birth, type of hearing loss if any, region of the US the clients are from, and type of schooling received. The reasons for requesting this demographic information were the following. First, to establish what type of effect the schooling received, age, and regions may have on NMS usage. A student would be more exposed to sign language at a residential school for the deaf rather than at a public school. The age may indicate a generational effect. Regions may have an impact especially if certain regions do not teach sign language students about the use of NMS. Second, to see if the type of hearing loss, if any, has an effect on NMS usage. For example, a person with hearing loss may be more visually oriented and more likely to notice NMS use.


Within the survey we requested information regarding the informant's family background with regards to hearing loss and use of sign language. The specific issues were, the number of not fully hearing people in the informants family, including the informant. We also asked the informant to note if family members used sign language to communicate and if so, whom? The usefulness of family background information is to establish if the informant was exposed to sign language at an early age and possibly a native signer, and to see if sign language was used as a first language or a strong second language in the informant's household.



The next question asked was in reference to signing experience. The goal of this question was to find out what labels the informants use to identify their sign language (ASL, contact sign, MCE, etc.). There may be differences in the usage of NMS in each type of sign language. Plus, this information would assist in determining if the participants are native signers. We requested responses to the following questions; type of signing used, year first learned to sign, length of time signing, whether the informants signed continuously or intermittently, where they learned to sign, and we asked if the informants remembered any ASL teachers telling them what NMS were and to pay attention to them.


Lastly, we gave the informants an opportunity to add anything that they believe might affect the study of her/his sign language.


Using the videotapes made, we compared usage of NMS for each informants. Each subject was videotaped while signing a prerecorded ASL story called, "Exploring A Cave" and a written English story, "Frosty the Snowman" which have potential for the use of NMS. We attempted to control all the factors so that only NMS are variable. We did not want to use conversations, nor have differences go by unaccounted for due to lack of fluency in written English or ASL.


We will look at the NMS within three categories. The first category is Grammatical Structure: Conditionals, Rhetorical Questions (both Y/N and WH-), Y/N Questions, WH-Questions, Topicalization, relativation, negation, etc. as established by ASL 5 classes at Gallaudet, and published sources. The second category is Modifiers: mm, CHA, SMA, LGE, cs, tongue wiggle, open mouth, puckered lips, puffed cheeks, tightly clenched lips, "intense", sucked cheeks, etc. as established by ASL 5 classes at Gallaudet, and published sources. The third category is Individual Signs that have an associated NMS, like NOT-YET, etc. as established by ASL classes at Gallaudet. Published sources have been spotty regarding this area.




Survey Data


Please look in Appendix 2 for a detail listing of the survey responses. Listed below are data that was considered significant in our analysis.


Hearing Group


Female Hearing Informant 01 and Female Hearing Informant 02 learned NMS through classes. Both had personal commitment to learn to sign.



Deaf Group


No one explicitly taught Male Deaf Informants 03 and 04 how to use NMS. The NMS were acquired natively.


Hard of Hearing Group


Female HOH informant 05 knew some NMS, specifically MM, OO, and CHA. She mentioned that she improved her NMS through a level 5 ASL class. She wants to improve her sign language to be like native Deaf people.


Female HOH informant 06 did not know anything about NMS. (We noticed her lack of knowledge directly from her videotapes). It seemed that her NMS were inconsistent and changed rapidly. She stated that she prefers not to improve on her sign language; but use the skills she has developed.


Videotape Data


To measure the usage of NMS, we chose certain concepts from the book and video which we felt would have NMS.


Analysis on the NMS used in the book, "Frosty the Snowman" is based on four concepts. 'Magic' and 'Joyful' were actual words found in the book. 'Role-Play' is where the signer takes on the role of Frosty when the book refers to the utterances by Frosty: 'I'm Frosty the Snowman!' and 'I'll be back when the next big snow falls!' Role-shifting may be included as part of the NMS for role-playing. 'Play' was implied through English and pictorial description of the children ice-skating and playing with Frosty within the book. See Figure 2 below for the associated NMS with these concepts.


Concept/Word NMS

Magic: Eyebrows up and face surprised

Role-Play: Does the participant take on role of Frosty

when he comes to life and says, "Hi, I am Frosty?".

May include torso or shoulder shifts.

Play: Tongue out, cheeks hollow

Joyful: MM mouth shape/smile, face lights up with joy

Figure 2 - NMS associated with concepts and words in the book "Frosty the Snowman."



Analysis on the NMS used in the video story, "Exploring a Cave" is based on five concepts. We chose those signs or concepts that had NMS associated with them on the videotape itself. See Figure 3 below for the associated NMS with these concepts.


Concept/Word NMS

Happy/Enjoy (to be exploring with friends): MM mouth shape or smile, eyebrows up

Anxiety eyebrows down, "intense" - teeth clenched

Flashlights go-out tongue out, cheeks hollow, eyebrows up

Serious thought/debate "intense" - teeth clenched

Acknowledgment of experience - head shake up and down, eyebrows up

"Wow, what an experience"

Figure 3 - NMS associated with concepts and signs in the videotape "Exploring a Cave."


Results based on the book are shown in Figure 4 below.


Concept Informant Informant Informant Informant Informant Informant

/Word 01 02 03 04 05 06

Hearing Hearing Deaf Deaf HOH HOH

Magic Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Role-Play* Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes

Play Yes No Yes Yes Yes No

Joyful Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

TOTAL 4/4 3/4 4/4 3/4 4/4 3/4

* May include role shifting.

Figure 4 - Findings of NMS while signing the book, "Frosty the Snowman."


Results based on the videotape are shown in Figure 5 below.


Informant Informant Informant Informant Informant Informant

01 02 03 04 05 06

Hearing Hearing Deaf Deaf HOH HOH

Happy/Enjoy Yes N/A No Yes No No

Anxiety Yes Yes Yes Yes No N/A

Flashlight go out Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No

Serious thought Yes Yes Yes N/A Yes Yes

Rich experience Yes Yes Yes N/A No No

TOTAL 5/5 4/5 4/5 3/5 2/5 1/5

Figure 5 - Findings of NMS while signing the story, "Exploring a Cave."



The analysis of the total number of NMS recorded as seen in the TOTAL line on the chart in Figure 4 are inconclusive because all the groups have similar amounts. No conclusions can be drawn other than all the groups are capable of producing some NMS while signing the story from the book. However, the analysis of the total number of NMS recorded as seen in the TOTAL line on the chart in Figure 5 is that the result appears to be H > D > HOH. If the data from the first chart in Figure 4 are added, this result would still be the same. The interpretation of the equation H > D > HOH is that the Hearing group drops the least NMS, Deaf group drops some NMS, and the Hard of Hearing group drops the most NMS.


Our hypothesis, D > HOH > H was not confirmed from our data. The result we have found, H > D > HOH, has the following implications. The Hearing group is not natively skilled in NMS, however retains the use of NMS. The Hard of Hearing group also is not natively skilled in NMS, and seems to eliminate many NMS in their signing and the Deaf group is natively skilled in NMS and seems to eliminate some of the NMS in their signing. Hearing loss is not a significant factor in becoming fluent in NMS for the Hard of Hearing or Hearing groups. NMS use can become native-like in the Hard of Hearing and Hearing groups.


Data Collection Issues


We were unable to determine the effects of regions on the amounts of NMS between the three groups because of insufficient number of informants representing each general region, like the East Coast, Midwest, and West Coast. Analysis was subjective based on our collective opinion as to if a NMS was seen or not. Decisions to measure NMS were difficult. Sometimes a portion of a NMS was seen and we choose to say only 'Yes' or 'No' so the answer would be "Yes" if even a portion of a proper NMS was observed. The research was skewed based on the opinions of what would or should be found. We only observed certain portions. Perhaps if more data was analyzed the results would be different. Another issue is that NMS seem to be personally adjusted by each informant depending on personality, who signing with, regarding what, etc. It is questionable that NMS can be measured with so many possible varying factors.


It's possible that native Deaf signers have different use of NMS, as do late signers who are HOH and Hearing. It may be difficult to compare the three groups because usually Deaf of deaf grow up with ASL as their native language. All other people do not have ASL as a native language. It is difficult to compare non-native signers with native signers. Also, it is natural for people to think that the native deaf signers use NMS correctly; but does that mean that any deviation is incorrect or non-usage? This is a subject that may need further research. But first it must be decided how one can research more precisely NMS use differences between Deaf, Hard of Hearing or Hearing informants. It would be interesting to compare a CODA (Child Of Deaf Adults) to a native Deaf signer and see if their NMS matched.



Analysis of Data from Hearing Informants


We believe that hearing signers of natural sign language can learn to use NMS in many ways, for example, through being taught NMS in sign language classes, socializing with native users of sign language, etc. However, not all NMS that we looked for were found. We can state that they can learn NMS but do not have perfect grasp of how and when. We also think that hearing informants have the most NMS due to a possible tendency to make sure all NMS are produced in their sign language, a notion similar to hypercorrecting. The Hearing group may be trying to produce all NMS applicable while some applicable NMS are dropped within the Deaf Group because the Deaf group is more relaxed and confident in using NMS within their native language.


Analysis of Data from Deaf Informants


They acquire natural sign language as a native language at an early age. We noticed that the deaf informants used the same NMS with regard to the "anxiety" and other signs when we videotaped them at different times. Please note that NMS varied a lot among all the informants. We think that it is possible that some NMS were missed due to gender differences. The two Deaf informants were male, the rest of the informants were female. One other possible explanation is that NMS are dropped because the content is clear without them in a Deaf Culture context.


Analysis of Data from Hard of Hearing Informants


We agree that the low occurrence of NMS in this group could be due to the fact that the informants are not aware of the need and use of NMS and they are not native signers. However, we see some usage of NMS and we could credit this to hard of hearing people being more visually aware than hearing people in general. However, the finding H > D > HOH has an implication that hearing loss is not a factor in learning to use NMS to the point of native-like fluency because the Hearing group has more NMS than the native Deaf group. The HOH and Hearing groups are not native. Some other factor, not hearing loss must be chosen to explain this result. Maybe this other factor could be a strong motivation to learn sign language as indicated by the data in the survey. One HOH informant had low amounts of NMS and low motivation to improve on her sign language. The other HOH informant had relatively high amounts of NMS and high motivation to improve on her sign language.





Our hypothesis, D > HOH > H was not confirmed from our data. The data we gathered shows H > D > HOH.


Results clarified that NMS can be taught during second language acquisition and not just be learned natively as part of a first language. Results showed that second language users of ASL can benefit by knowing that they need, as a whole, to spend extra time working on mastering NMS, if possible, and at that level of ASL fluency. Results demonstrated that native users of sign language should realize that they may not understand non-native users because of misuse, underuse, different use, or no use of NMS. Results enable us to declare that on a rudimentary level, NMS are needed to produce comprehensible ASL.



These results may enable ASL teachers to see what types of training in NMS is necessary for HOH or Hearing students to have so that they are fully understood by the Deaf students. Being taught NMS appears to be very beneficial for both the Hearing and HOH groups and could be beneficial for the Deaf group as well. If ASL was taught to Deaf people, what would ASL look like as a result? According to Kannapell (1989:191), deaf informants in her study favor the idea of students taking a language course in their native language for various reasons, including learning ASL in depth. In such a course, NMS would need to be explicitly taught.



Appendix 1:

Study Survey

by Ruth Tamar Jackson, Rebecca Orton and Peter Un



Survey Requirements:


1. What is the highest level of ASL you were evaluated at, or had a passing grade in, at Gallaudet? (ASL 5, ASL 5+, native, or waived)? _______________________________


2. What is your level of English literacy that you have achieved in school (high school, college prep, undergraduate, graduate, etc.)?____________________________________


3. What is your level of formal schooling (high school, college prep, undergraduate, graduate, etc.)?___________________________________________________________





4. Where were you born? __________________________________________________


5. When were you born? ___________________________________________________


6. Are you ___Hearing, ___Hard of Hearing, or ___Deaf?


7. In general, where are you from (West Coast, East Coast, Midwest, Southern US, Northern US, other)? ______________________________________________________


8. What type of K-12 schooling did you have (i.e.: residential, public school, private school, other)? ___________________________________________________________



Family Background:


9. Number of people that are not fully hearing in your family (including yourself if applicable) _______________

10. Do your other family members use sign language to communicate with you?

Yes: _____ No:______



11. If yes, who (i.e.: mother, father, sister(s), brother(s), other)? For how long? Does the family member have a hearing loss?


Family member: Years/Months: Hearing Status:

__________________ ___________________ ________________

__________________ ___________________ ________________

__________________ ___________________ ________________

__________________ ___________________ ________________

__________________ ___________________ ________________

__________________ ___________________ ________________



Signing Experience:


12. What kind of signing do you currently use (ASL, SimComm, SEE II, Signed English (PSE), contact sign, other)? _________________________________________________


13. What year did you first learn to sign? ______________________________________


14. How long have you been signing? Years ______________ Months____________


15. Have you been signing continuously over a long span of time, or off and on (intermittently) since you started learning to sign? _______________________________



16. Where did you learn to sign (i.e.: from family, deaf school, deaf community, college classes, community classes, videotapes, computer software, books, independent study, interpreter program, other)? _________________________________________________



17. Do you have any memories of teachers or others telling you to pay attention to facial expressions, non-manual signals or markers, or body language? If so, please describe.





Other Considerations:


18. Please add any other factors that you think affect your sign language use and/or ability: _________________________________________________________________





Appendix 2:


Survey Data


Parenthesis indicate which informant.


1. 2 ASL 5+ (01, 02), 1 ASL 5 (05), 2 Native (03, 04), Waived (06)

2. 3 Undergraduate (03, 04, 06), 2 graduate(01, 02), 1 "post-college" (05)

3. 3 undergraduate(03, 04, 06), 3 graduate(01, 02, 05)




4. Idaho (06), North Carolina (04), New York (03), Rhode Island (05), Alabama (02), Pennsylvania (01)

5. '57 (04), '59 (03), '60 (02), '65 (05), '73 (01), '77 (06)

6. 3 deaf (03, 04, 05), 1 hard of hearing (06), 2 hearing (01, 02)

7. 4 east coast (01, 03, 04, 05), 2 west coast (02, 06)

8. 2 residential (03, 04), 1 public & residential (06), 1 public & private (01), 2 public (02, 05)


Family Background:


9. 4 (03, 04), 1 (05), 2 (06), 0 (01, 02)

10. 3 no (01, 02, 05), 3 yes (03, 04, 06)

11. 3 no data (01, 02, 05), Deaf Father (04), Deaf Mother (04), Sister (deaf at birth); Deaf Mom (03), Deaf Dad (03), Deaf 4 x 'Son' (03); HOH Step-father (06).

All answers for Years/Months were unclear.


Signing Experience:


12. ASL-6 (01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06); Contact Sign-1 (05, 06); PSE-2 (02); SimComm-1 (06)

13. '? Since I can remember' (01), 1992 (02), 'at birth' (03), 'at age of 1 1/2' (04), '18 years old - 1984' (05), 'learned at early age - then forgot it all & had to learn again in 7th grade' (06)

14. 38yrs (03), 40yrs (04), 9yrs (06), 6yrs. 2 months (02), 25yrs, 14yrs (05), no data (01)

15. 5 continuously (02, 03, 04, 05, 06), 1 on & off (01)

16. 'deaf school, Idaho' (06); 'deaf community, college classes, videotapes, deaf friends' (05); 'from family and deaf friends later at deaf school, Gallaudet classes & interpreting program' (01); 'Community college and deaf community' (02); family (03); 'Deaf parent' (04)



17. 'In drama-for deaf plays-be clear with my signs-and get to point' (06); 'before taking ASL V, I knew oo-mm-cha cues but achieved a higher level of expression thru inflectional signs facial and handshapes' (05); 'played games using only facial expressions-in several classes a primary part of grade was use of NMS' (02); 'In ASL 3 I learned how the same sentence could be declarative, question, and negative through using facial expression' (01); 'No' (03, 04);


18. No! (03); no data (04); 'I do not really "copy" or learn from others whom strong in ASL I stay with what I know-and keep my level of signing level "same" not better or improve' (06); 'How native signers and residential deafies reject mainstreamed deaf because of their lack of language fluency affects my ability to become proficient ASL signer I learn better and pick up more through them!!' (05); 'I used a few signs all of my life, I took up ASL classes in 1989 and took classes on & off until 1993, then I did not take any more classes or have much exposure to deaf people until coming to Gallaudet in Aug. 1997 since then it's been an intense study of ASL.' (01); 'Personal commitment to learn sign, good friends that are native signers-spending time with them.' (02)







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