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How To Learn Sign Language

Arbitrary vs Iconic Signs: What Are They? (ASL)


(♪♪♪) Hi everybody! So, first of all I just kind of wanted to explain a little bit. So you might notice that I’m not talking today. I’m actually signing. There’s a few reasons why I decided to go ahead and sign today’s video. I had a few comments and kinda made me think. That’s not the only reason I decided to go ahead and do signing. I thought it might be helpful. I do remember one person had commented a while back saying that they prefer watchign me sign because it helps them to learn sign language. So I thought I’d go ahead and give it a try. See about doing doing signing. I’ll have a voice over and CC. So if you prefer that I’m signing let me know! Yay? Nay? If you like it, hit the LIKE button below let me know! So today’s topic is arbitrary vs iconic signs. So somebody had requested what is the difference, what do they mean, give some examples. So, first I’m going to teach you what each word is. So the first word is arbitrary. So arbitrary is talking about that there’s a sign, the sign and the meaning don’t have any relationship. There’s no connection between them. There’s no specific reason why this sign is related to that word. So for comparing that to iconic signs. Iconic signs, the signs themselves obviously are related to the word. There’s a meaning. I’m going to give you some examples. So we’re going to start with the iconic. So an example of an iconic sign would be like ball. So obviously if you look at the sign, it’s in the shape of a ball. It looks like a ball! So that’s iconic. Another example would be like curls, like curly hair. So obvioulsy it’s that way because the curl goes in that shape. So when you do that with your hands, its the curls. So another example would be let’s say underwear. So the sign for underwear, at least what I use, is this. Obviously you’d sign it closer down to where your underwear are but you can’t see that. So one of th reasons is because that is the shopae of underwear. I’m drawing it with my fingers, or bra which is up here. Same idea. So those are some examples of iconic signs. So again the sign and the word have an obvious meaning and connection. Now when we’re talking about arbitrary umm again arbitrary the sign and the word don’t really have any connection. There’s no reason that sign is with that word. So I’m trying to think of an example, like GOOD. G-O-O-D. So, there’s really no reason why hand to your mouth, then it goes forward. That’s doesn’t really represent the meaning of good. Good meaning something is nice or happy or you know good. BAD same idea. There’s really… I mean obvioulsy the two good and bad are the opposite so you can see the difference but again, there’s really no connection from the sign to the word. Umm maybe another ummm concept would be like APPLE for example. Apple, umm the handshape the placement, you know doesn’t look like an apple. Umm it’s not the shape of an apple. You it doesn’t signify it’s red. You know this right here, that would be more signified that it’s red. That explains what the apple is. Like this handshape, I don’t know? There’s really no reason! I mean maybe there is a reason, but I don’t know what the reason is. It is not very clear that that would be an apple. If I were signing that to a person who doesn’t know sign language and I signed this. They probably wouldn’t know what I’m talking about. If I signed like BALL for example, they might be able to guess what that is. Maybe that’s a ball or somthing because it’s round and it’s circular. So, yeah that is the difference between arbitrary and iconic signs. So Zach since you made the request hopefully that helps you. Again let me know if you guys prefer that I used signing with the voicing and CC. If you think that that’s better or you prefer that I’m talking. You know I’m trying to be accessible as I can for everybody. That’s the reason I decided to go ahead and start CC these videos. I had a few Deaf people say “why aren’t you CC your videos?” So I went ahead and did that. Some people still want me to sign. So let me know. Uhh hopefully you guys have enjoyed today’s video. If you have, please hit the LIKE button below. Click it please! Also if you have not subscribed, click the big red button up there and SUBSCRIBE! I love having you guys come and you know join in with me. Leave comments below. You know give me some examples maybe comparing arbitrary to iconic. You know, what do you guys think? So definitely let me know! As always I will have 2 other videos over here. So please click on those. Take a look, let me know what you think and yeah I will see you in the next video! Bye everybody!

26 Replies to “Arbitrary vs Iconic Signs: What Are They? (ASL)”

  • THANK YOU the signing with voice over is much better. I can turn the volume off and work on developing my receptive skills. Please keep it 🙂 

  • okay jill thanks as always; i am currently doing a lil late night study with your videos and i have a question. k so ASL is not like SEE okay so is there ever a scenario where an interpreter will interpret what another interpreter is saying to the hearing person and if so  how exactly is that done?

  • This is an older video, but you asked for peoples opinions. I am hearing and your voice has become very familiar to me but I am also hard of hearing so reading your lips as you are talking takes away from some of the signing lessons. I gain more from the voice overs though I do enjoy both. Does that even help? 
    Thanks, Mollie

  • First I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your ASL videos! I took ASL 1 & 2 10 years ago when my first child was a baby. Then life got busy and continuing on through college wasn't an option. I still like to keep my skills fresh through YouTube, but searches usually produce signing-only videos, or students signing very basic ASL….until now, when I found your videos. I learned the term "voicing" last week and that changed what content showed up in a search.

    Since you are asking, I'd love to share my opinion on how I prefer to watch your videos. I do like it when you sign more. I like the videos with Jenna the best because you are talking to her (and us) while signing. You tend to speak and sign the same words at the same time in those videos. The voice-over videos are great also, but the words don't always match up as well as when you're speaking directly to us, so I pick up on fewer new words. Thanks for all you are doing!!!

  • This video is  a godsend.  I am studying Psychology and in particular language and signing.  My course doesn't explain the difference between arbitrary and iconic and internet search was super involved.  Thanks for simple and easy to follow definition.

  • I think leaving out the issue of CL leaves this video wanting. I would have liked to see you mention the difference between iconic signs and classifiers.

  • I am hearing and I am learning ASL for various reasons. I think having you sign with CC is most helpful for me. I mute the sound so I didn't even know you had a voice over. It's a good immersion into visual, whether it be signs or words. I know other people learn differently than I do, so I definitely can't speak for others, but my vote is for signing and CC.

  • I like when you talk, sign, and CC all together.  But I am a hearing person and would rather you do whatever is best for others.

  • I'm learning ASL and I've been using your videos for practice. I then the volume off since I'm HoH and I watch your videos twice. once with no cc to try to see if I can understand what you're signing and then I watch it again with cc learning words I couldn't figure out. bonus that I love your videos and think you girls are so cute together. I just wish there was a way to slow the speed of YouTube videos. thanks for everything!!!

  • i much, much prefer you signing. Your videos and signing are crystal clear and easy for everyone to follow along. Also, thank you for this specific topic!!! You've been so helpful. Wonderful ASL!

  • I love your videos. I am a hearing person learning ASL. When you sign and then provide captions and voice over, I am able to watch them with no captioning and voice off. That allows me to work on my receptive skills. Then I will listen to your voice to see how much I understood. I am also studying deaf culture. Your explanations of deaf culture have been a treasure trove of information. Thanks!

  • Signing and talking at the same time is neither English or ASL. Both languages suffer. A true student of ASL would definately prefer no voice. Turn off the volume and watch. What you missed you can review with the voice interpretation later.

  • Your signing like you are is exactly why I started watching your channel. It give me the opportunity so see ASL used conversationally. It's fun that I'm able to pick up as much as I am already. 🙂

  • I may be wrong, but I associate the sign for apple with the "apples of your cheek". The sign for good I associate with confirmation coming straight from the mouth (like a source of goodness/agreeing that something is good).
    This is just me and how I understand ASL. Could be totally off and that's a-okay. Ty for your videos, very appreciative of them.

  • I have been attending a basic ASL class in college this semester, I am hearing but want to learn ASL since my major is Hearing Instrument Specialist. Thank you for posting this video, it was very helpful in understanding the difference between Arbitrary and Iconic signs. I am now a subscriber and eager to watch and learn more from you!

  • A little tip for new ASL learners: it's helpful to learn basic BSL too cuz every now and again a few BSL signs like 'I don't know' get mixed into ASL signing and it's good to still know what's being said

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