MOTHER in sign language

"How do you say 'mother' in American Sign Language?" There is a couple of variations. Plus, watch a video of the kid naturally acquiring the ASL word.

Definition: A woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth.

Pronunciation/articulation: Thumb of dominant "5" hand taps twice on the lower cheek near the mouth. The palm is loosely facing left if right-handed.

This signword is generally translated into "mother" in English, and sometimes "mom".

Pronunciation/articulation: Fingers of the dominant "5" handshape flutter with the thumb on the side of lower cheek near the mouth.

This signword is generally translated into "mother" only in English, not "mom". This sign is used with some particular compound signs or some particular contexts or meanings, such as MOTHER EARTH.

Sometimes, like hearing people using other terms than "mother", Deaf people also have other signs, such as MOMMY or MUM.

Related signs: FAMILY, MOTHER-IN-LAW, MOTHER's DAY, GRANDMOTHER, biological mother.

Opposite: FATHER.

Baby Signing MOTHER

First, it's inappropirate to use terms, "baby signs" or "baby sign language" which is cultural-linguistic appropriation. We deaf people have faced hearing oppression of various forms from cultural appropriation to linguicism and audism for a very long time.

Linguistics, neuroscience, and many scientific studies, as well as my documentation of language acquisition in sign language have shown that signed and spoken language are on the same timeline. Language is amodal (Petitto's works).

The time-lapse video of phonological acquisition shows how the baby "Juli" acquires the sign "MOTHER" naturally with some details in a native ASL-signing environment ("mother finger" as opposed to "mother tongue") as an example.

Even though the "5" handshape is one of few unmarked handshapes in the 50+ chart, thumb is one of some difficult phonological aspects in sign language at early age (during the first two years from birth).

The "1" handshape is also one of the unmarked handshapes. She began with this handshape, then "A", and finally then "5" with the thumb in contact. Signing hearing and deaf children may process in their own ways. For example, another ASL-speaking toddler of Deaf parent used the "5" handshape with the palm in contact with the cheek before the thumb is used.

In term of the movement, the infant Juli started with what is appeared to be the movement away from the face rather than toward the face. See the difference between age 1;2 and 1;5 (both same handshapes but different movement).

Though, many Deaf ASLian parents may use the handshape "1" for (what is equivalent to English as) MOMMY or "mum" with their kids. Instead, the mother used the regular ASL sign ("5" handshape) all the way; watching Juli's development had been interesting.

In case you're wondering what she signed at the end of this video. She uttered in ASL, "MAKE HEART FOR MOTHER". Notice the handshape error for HEART ("6" handshape instead of the correct "open 8").

Signing at age 4 in the video above with the, aww, mouthing "mama". The signword MOTHER must be her all-time favorite. :D See how her little eyes twinkled.


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Some word entries have one of some tidbits in this section, such as minimal pairs of sign words, rhymes, etc. usually related to or associated with its word entry.

Written ASL

[Note: ASL writing is not an official standard. This sign language writing remains in a state of open space to allow room for experiment, evolution, and improvement.]

ASL writing for MOTHER

Contributed by ASLwrite.

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