Role shifting in American Sign Language: basics

Role shifting indicates who says or does of the characters in ASL storytelling and prose. This tutorial introduces you to a basic information on role-shifting in sign language.

Eye gazing, head shifting, and body shifting (the upper part of the body) are used in role shifting.

The signer shifts her/his body to the left or to the right to establish a spatial reference to represent a person. In this case, says or does that reflect the person. You will find this role shifting commonly used in ASL storytelling.

This regular frontal position along with regular frontal gaze usually indicates the narrator's position or perspective. The signer can say about a person without shifting her/his body. E.g. He expresses that... or Juliette told me that she couldn't make it tonight.

The signer in her frontal position states, for example, yesterday my boyfriend ask-me. Then she begins to shift to left and continues you told my mother about my plan q. It is equivalent to Yesterday my boyfriend asked me, "Did you tell my mother about my plan? As for the ASL phrase ask-me, the signer uses the spatial agreement with the role shifting.

The signer then shifted to the right in reply no. Using role shifting, she refers to two characters talking to each other. If the signer remains in one position for a relatively long while (eg. after several sentences), she may loosely shift back slightly till the end of the character's perspective. It is not a tense, strict position.

Eye-gazing and head-tilting are another grammatical feature to indicate the height of a person's perspective. The examples above can be referred to an adult and a child in dialogue, an owner and a dog, a queen on the throne and a kneeling warrior or such.