Beginner I

Personal pronouns in sign language

Pronouns are a class of referents that may substitue for nouns in a sentence. They have the same reference as the nouns which they replace.

Personal pronouns

Personal pronouns in English include "he," "she," "it," and "you". In ASL, indexing (finger pointing) is used for personal pronouns.

The forms of the ASL pronouns are the same for both subject and object in a sentence, like Chinese but unlike English which has different forms (i.e. "he" and "him").

Why pronouns?

The pronouns are used to make nouns in sentences less repetitive. Same true for signed languages.

It's not uncommon to see a few ASL students signing the same nouns repeatedly without using pronouns. In this case, imagine what it would be like to translate ASL into English below. It's repetitive and somehow distracting.

Jane asked John for a penny so that Jane could keep the penny in Jane's wallet for good luck. John couldn't find John's wallet and realized John had lost John's wallet.

Did you feel lost? Or become distracted? A speaker does not need to repeat the same noun every time. Instead, she/he uses pronouns to refer to these nouns in the following sentence.

Jane asked John for a penny so that she could keep it in her wallet for good luck. John couldn't find his wallet and realized he had lost it.

ASL, like other sign languages, has a complex set of pronouns, pronominal classifiers, and indexing. It uses the pronominal references in space. But, start practicing pronouns to build your foundation.


Here are some basic examples of using personal pronouns in sign language.

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Related posts

Also see possessive pronouns (possessive adjectives); determiners (THAT, THESE, etc).

Also see listing and ranking: referencing grammar.

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