YES in sign language

This word entry contains ASL signs for "yes" and variants, kid signing "yes" from baby to preschool age in real-world contexts, and related links.

ASL sign for YES
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ASL signs for YES

How do you say 'yes' in American Sign Language?

Meaning: Used to give a positive answer or reply to a question, request, or offer; used to give an affirmative response.

Pronunciation: Dominant fist or "S" hand bobbing down twice at wrist, resembling a head nodding.

Among native/Deaf signers, as with other ASL signs, there are nuances of meaning for this regular 'yes' sign with just different movements along with intonation (e.g. facial expression).

For beginners, it's good to start with this 'yes' sign.

Variants of affirmative responses

While 'yes' sign is one of some basic vocabulary in everyday conversations, there are different signs or some interjections of affirmative responses that Deaf signers use other than the 'yes' sign above. They are not not something one can use in any contexts. For beginners, observe how they use these in specific contexts in natural conversations.

Semantic variation. Lexicalized fingerspelling / fingerspelled loanword.

Used often with emphasis in specific contexts, excitement (repeated "YES+++"), or such specific tones.

One of some variations for "yep" or "yup".

Related signs: NOPE.

Nodding

Nodding is is a commonly used interjection, variously used to express agreement, to make an acknowledgment to encourage to continue speaking, or to indicate a lack of interest or enthusiasm. It's generally to say "mm-hmm", "okay", "yeah" or simply a "mm-hmm' cue of active listening.

A common nod means 'yes'. Other kinds of nods can convey subtle different meanings of affirmative expressions from one acknowledging to "I'm listening."

As for the "I'm listening" nods, it's used by a listener to let the talking signer know that the listener is paying attention. If a beginner hearing signer looks plain or frozen, the Deaf signer probably would rephrase, repeat, or begin to sign slower, or ask, "Understand?" Nodding is not the only thing, but fluent Deaf signers use other non-interrupting responses too.

Kid signing "yes" and nodding

The time-lapse video shows how the bilingual ASL-speaking baby acquired the concept of "yes" and used it. How she had evolved from "yes" to nodding. And how she discovered language play with it at the end of video. Can you do the same fun challenge she played?

In the video at age 1;2, the capture of this moment is a good example of peripheral vision of the native-signing mother when the baby produced "yes" while the mother dropped the book on the table. It took a moment for her to realize what the baby uttered. It all happened in milliseconds, just hearing people are able to detect finest movements of sounds in milliseconds.

At around age 1;9, the toddler was introduced to use "yes" in contexts. She also used other ways of expressing, such as "please" and nodding in her own ways.

At age 2;7, the preschooler persuaded her mother to give her several candies. Just four, she thought it was just a few, but it was too many for the mother. She bargained, just one. :D

At age 3;5, she discovered a language play in ASL when she teased her mother "yes at the same time no". Plus, shaking head -- all three in one. :D

Related signs

Synonyms: YEAH, SURE, ALL-RIGHT, UH-HUH.

Opposite: NO with a little hypothetical question posed by nine-year-old bilingual ASL-speaking kid about why the ASL signs "yes" and "no" don't have the same origin of reason. Kids say the darnedest things!

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 YES

Contributed by Adrean Clark.

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