Beginner I

Listing and ranking grammar in sign language

Listing and ranking are grammatical parts in American Sign Language (ASL). It is used when referring to three (or sometimes two) or more referents, usually up to five where your passive or non-dominant hand has only five.

If referring to two things, the signer uses the contrastive structure. Sometimes, use ranking/listing for two things.

GLOSS: my mother "have" three degrees ix-1 ba ix-2 bfa ix-3 mfa, maybe future ix-she study ix-4 phd.

Equivalent to English: My mother has three degrees: BA, BFA, and MFA. Who knows she might study for PhD in the future.

Usually, the signer holds three fingers throughout for the first three items instead of adding one after one. The method above is a variation, though infrequently. It's used in some contexts.

Listing is usually in order from the oldest to the youngest (e.g. siblings, children, etc.), from the first position to the last (e.g. sports), the importance of topics, and so on.

Listing or ranking 2 things

When talking about two things (e.g. topics), use "2" handshape (not index finger and thumb).

Listing or ranking 2 things

When referring to one of three things, use "3" handshape. As for four, use "4" handshape. And, "5" handshape.

Listing or ranking 2 things

As for four, use "4" handshape.

Listing or ranking 2 things

And, "5" handshape.

Listing or ranking 2 things

How does one sign if a person is the sixth sibling in his/her family? Or, one is ranked 8th in a contest? Use the regular number of the dominant hand below the passive hand.


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Also see contrastive structure to learn about referring to two things, persons, or topics.

See role shifting (body and gaze shifting) for another related grammatical structure.

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