Verb inflection: HELP in American Sign Language

Many ASL verbs, not all of them, can be modulated to a different meaning by using one of these temporal aspect, distributional aspect, and spatial agreement. Some ASL verbs can be modulated into indicating verbs by modifying the direction or movement of the verb.

Inflecting a verb can change the subject-object structure as well as it can incorporate pronouns. The indicating verb HELP is chosen here to give you an illustration.

Basic inflections for HELP

To start with the base verb of HELP. The sign for HELP is as follows:

This base verb help is a regular, non-inflected verb.

The signer inflects this verb help to help-you, in which the signer moves toward you, the listener, which means "help you."

Many ASL verbs can be inflected to indicate the subject and the object in a sentence. These inflected verbs are called indicating verbs.

It's the opposite from the above. Changing the direction of the verb results in a different subject-object structure, that is help-me.

The direction of this movement indicates help him/her. The locative in the right space refers to "her/him/it". The pronoun in ASL has no gender identity; it is neutral.

The change of the location now indicates She/he helps him/her. The locative changes from the right space to the left space (or vice versa, depending on the referent in a particular space and who is helping).

Complex modulations for HELP

Beyond the subject-object pronouns (you->him, I->you, etc.), the verb can moduated for other more meanings, such as "help each other", "help you all", "help each of you", and so on. The verb can be further modulated in conjunction with mouth morphemes, movements, and repetitions to add adverbs. E.g. "help them often", "tirelessly help him/her all the time", and such.

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