What are the 5 ASL parameters?

Answered by Antonio Sutton

The 5 Parameters of American Sign Language (ASL) are crucial in understanding how signs are formed and used within the signer’s space. These parameters include handshape, palm orientation, movement, location, and expression/non-manual signals.

1. Handshape: Handshape refers to the specific configuration of the hand used to produce a sign. ASL utilizes a rich variety of handshapes to convey different meanings. For example, the handshape for the letter “A” is used in signs like “apple,” while a closed fist is used in signs like “cat.” Each handshape has its own distinct meaning and can significantly alter the meaning of a sign.

2. Palm Orientation: Palm orientation refers to the direction in which the palm faces during a sign. The orientation can be upward, downward, sideways, or inward/outward. This parameter is essential as it can change the meaning of a sign entirely. For instance, the sign for “thank you” is different when the palm orientation is facing the signer versus facing the person being thanked.

3. Movement: Movement describes the motion or action involved in producing a sign. Signs can have various movement patterns, such as circular, straight, repeated, or back-and-forth motions. Movement adds dynamism and nuance to signs and helps convey additional information. For example, the sign for “run” involves a fast and continuous movement, while the sign for “slow” involves a slow and deliberate movement.

4. Location: Location refers to where the sign is produced in relation to the signer’s body or signing space. Signs can be produced on different parts of the body or in specific areas of the signing space. For instance, signs related to the head are produced near the head, while signs related to the chest are produced near the chest. The location of a sign provides valuable contextual information and helps distinguish between similar signs.

5. Expression/Non-manual Signals: Expression, also known as non-manual signals, involves facial expressions, body movements, and other non-manual cues that accompany a sign. These expressions convey grammatical information, emotions, and other important aspects of the message. For example, raising the eyebrows can indicate a question, while nodding the head can indicate agreement. Expression adds depth and clarity to ASL communication.

Understanding and correctly utilizing these 5 Parameters of ASL is essential for effective communication in the Deaf community. Mastery of these parameters allows signers to convey precise meanings and nuances, facilitating clear and meaningful interactions. By utilizing the right handshape, palm orientation, movement, location, and expression/non-manual signals, signers can express themselves fluently and accurately in ASL.