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Describing shapes + perspective in ASL

Signed language uses a visual-spatial dimension, unlike spoken language which uses an auditory space. Developing perspective and perceptual skills are crucial learning when using a signed language.

This tutorial will help you with basic shapes to practice perceptual-spatial skills and perspective. This is the foundation to building more skills in describing complex shapes, objects, and directions later.

Learn and remember some important keys in describing a shape or an object: handshape/classifier, perspective, reference point, and sequence strategy.

Signer's perspective

Before we begin with describing shapes or any objects, we need to understand how to use perspective. A signer uses a signer's perspective.

A listener uses a signer's perspective which means the listener looks at a description of the image, object, direction, or any other through the signer's lens. That is, the listener has to mentally reverse to fit what the signer perceives.

v-shaped side

For example, you as a listener watches the signer below who describes an arrow based on how the signer exactly views the image of the arrow above. You sees a reversed shape as you watched the signer. When drawing the shape, you have to reverse the description to the signer's perspective that matches the pre-drawn image.

Gloss: vside

The signer describes the shape from the signer's perspective based on the image above. You as a listener see the opposite side and you would have to mentally reverse to match the image below.

The passive hand acts as a reference and it holds the reference point while the active hand describes the line of the shape.

Describing basic symmetrical shapes

To begin with simple shapes, practice describing the shapes below. As these shapes are not irregular, you use both hands and move both hands equally, except for a circle.

Perspective doesn't matter since these shapes are the mirror-sided. Practice signing these shapes.

Gloss: square

The sides of this shape "square" should be equal in length.

Gloss: rectangle

This is a horizontal rectangle. If vertical, then change the size of the length. But the order or sequence remains the same.

Gloss: diamond

The shapes that have a symmetrical nature are usually described, using the symmetrical handshapes and the symmetrical movement path.

Using a reference point

Now learn how to use a reference point when describing an irregular shape or an object. If you're dominantly right-handed, your left hand is a passive or base hand.

When describing an irregular shape, the non-dominant or passive hand establishes the reference point, while the dominant hand describes the shape of circle. When required, there are exceptions.

The reference point helps with idenitfying a relative position and size of the shape.

See a simple example below.

Gloss: circle

The signer uses the passive hand to establish the reference point and it stays in its location while the other dominant hand traces a pathline of the circle.

Exercise: describing shapes

Before you play these videos, try to describe these shapes (images) yourself first before viewing the videos.

v-shaped side

Gloss: diamond-circle

diamond-circle

shape

The non-dominant or passive hand establishes the reference point, while the dominant hand describes the shape of circle with a pie cut.

The signer describes the shape from the signer's perspective based on the image as shown right above. You as a listener see the opposite side and you would have to mentally reverse to match the image.

These are some ASL lessons, tutorials, and tips that ASL students and language enthusiasts can explore and learn some ASL on their own relaxing pace.

Seeking some challenges? Try some stories, fables, and others in ASL storytelling and poetry. Study a complex system of subtle eye gazes, role-shifting, classifiers, sentence structures, and other linguistic features as well as poetics.