ASL Handshapes Produce Mental Movies

What is a mental movie and how do we produce them?

When we visualize something in our minds, it’s like a movie scene of what we recall or imagine. It can be a memory or a possible situation we witnessed.

When Deaf people think in English, they have words or short phrases that pop up in their minds. However, in American Sign Language, we mainly use visual scenes when we think (not English words) by using handshapes to create signs. They’re like mini-movies we watch in our heads. So, How do we do that?

American Sign Language Classifiers

Do you ever look at your hands and wonder what kind of shapes they would create? Have you ever watched mimes performing and gesturing? Without voicing the words, you could figure out and understand what they were doing and “saying”, right?

That is the concept of American Sign Language Classifiers.

There are about 52 handshapes and classifiers. Around 40 of them are most commonly used daily in signing.

In ASL, handshapes are much more than creating shapes. They are magically evolving into an action or item that you’d recognize and be able to match a word to. Most of the time Classifiers can describe what an object looks like as well as show an action that that object is doing.

Think of it like an adjective, noun, and verb all in one.

ASL Handshape C Classifiers

Try this out: How would you show yourself drinking something with your hands without an actual drink in your hand? Don’t use your voice.

One hand would have the four fingers together and bend halfway with the thumb, also bend halfway. Then you gesture your hand as if you’re holding a drink and put it close to your mouth to drink in action. Pretty easy, right?

This handshape is called “C” – you probably would notice the shape looking like a backward C on your right hand or a standard C on your left hand.

Signing “drink” this way cuts your sentence from “I drink from a cup” in English to “DRINK” in ASL where the “I” and “from a cup” is shown instead of directly stated.

Now, let’s up the challenge a bit. What other action or object can you think of with that handshape?

Handshape C

How about using both hands in the C handshape and putting them on your eyes looking through them as if you’re holding the binoculars? Pretty neat, eh?

ASL Handshape ILY Classifiers

Now, here is another handshape you might recognize. It’s one that is used more commonly in mainstream media (TV shows, movies, and social media).

Handshape ILY

It’s “ILY” or “I love you”. You might wonder how this would be shown as ILY since it doesn’t seem to be iconic or makes sense.

It is actually made up of three letters in the ASL alphabet that blended all together, ASL alphabet “I” ASL alphabet “L”, and ASL alphabet “Y”. Here is the picture below to show you:

Combination of handshape I – handshape L – handshape Y = Handshape ILY

Now you know what it means and you can show it to your family and friends to let them know your love.

ASL Handshape F/9 Classifiers

Handshape F/9

What do you think it is? A different kind of number 3? A small hole?

In general, it’s a gesture to say, “I’m okay” or to ask, “are you okay?”

In ASL, it is either the letter F or the number 9.

With your imagination and creative mind, can you come up with what can be used as a word or appearance?

How about this – the part where the index finger and thumb touch together (in the form of a hole), now with that – pretend you’re picking up something from the table, something that grosses you out hence the finger/thumb for the least amount of touch. You can make a grimacing face to go with it while “picking up the gross item”. Fun, eh?

That’s it for today’s topic. I could go on and on about other handshapes but this post could become a novel or at risk of putting you to sleep midway. However, you can mull over any of the three handshapes you’ve read and learned about to see how many words you can come up with.

Leave a comment to let us know how many words you think you’ve come up with for the letter C, ILY and/or F/9. Have fun being creative with the handshapes!

‘Til next time, ta ta! 😀🤟🏻

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