Level: Beginner I

Spatial referencing in sign language

This introduces you to the pronominal system and spatial referencing in sign language. You will learn about pronominalization, using pronouns and others in ASL (American Sign Language).

There is no gender for pronouns in ASL unless you mention a gender in context (e.g. "A woman.. she..") in sentences. For this demonstration, there is no gender mentioned so she and he are interchangeable.

indexing and eye-gazing
Illustration (2005) by Jolanta Lapiak.

Pronouns

Pronouns are the most familiar ones, such as personal pronouns and possessive pronouns.

For personal pronouns, use your index finger (e.g. you, s/he, it). For possessive pronouns (e.g. your, my, their, etc), use the whole hand with closed fingers.

Gloss: IX1 POSS2 BROTHER
English equivalent: She/he is his/her brother.

The gloss "IX" that I use on this website represents index-finger pointing (pronoun) and POSS is for a possessive. The number represents a spatial locus. E.g. The locus of IX1 is on the right side and IX2 is on the left side of the signer.

In this case, "She/he (IX1) is his/her (POSS2) brother.

Gloss: IX2 POSS1 STUDENT
English equivalent: She/he is his/her student.

You can establish IX1 in either right or left side and then assign the other side IX2. When talking about one person, one usually uses the dominant side of the signer. When talking about two persons, a signer usually uses the dominant side for the main subject.

Beyond pronouns, there are a few different ways of indexing.

Determiners

Like pronouns, determiners (e.g. THAT, THIS, etc.) also uses spatial referencing.

Eye-gazing

Eye-gazing also plays a role in spatial referencing in agreement with the signed words and pronouns.

Eye-gazing also communicates with whom the signer is talking to or it can indicate a referent. If there are two persons present, the signer is talking to Signer A while gazing at Signer A and finger-pointing to Signer B. It means she/he or him/her. If the signer is talking Signer A and finger pointing to Signer A, it means YOU.

Exercises with pronouns and possessives

Content available to subscribers. Log in PatronPlus or sign up.

Related posts

Also see personal pronouns.

Possessive pronouns in sign language.

Enter a keyword in the field box below to search or filter the new topic list and click on the link.

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.