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How To Learn Sign Language

Does Sign Language Change Over Time? ⎮ ASL Stew

[JI] Hello, I’m Jill…
[JE] …and I’m Jenna. [JI] This is ASL Stew! ♪♪♪ [JE] Okay, so today we’re talking about does sign language change over time, or is it static? A lot of people either ask, “why are there different signs?”, or complain “why do signs vary?”. So we thought we’d go ahead and discuss this topic today. [JI] Some of the reason that there’s variation in sign language is due to regional accents. Some people just sign differently. However, another reason there is variation in sign language is because sign language adapts just like any other language. It’s the same as spoken language. So some signs are older and some are more recent. So you will notice change over time and we’ll give you some examples. One example is “help”. In older generations, they tended to sign this for help. Now recently, it’s signed this way. It’s more concise. You don’t actually have to touch your elbows. You just sign help. Sometimes technology can have an influence on how sign language changes. For example, phone. In the olden days, it was signed this way because you had an old rotary phone like that. Now we sign it this way and even sometimes this way due to cell phones. A lot of times phone is signed this way. So things change over time depending on the technology and will adapt as well. So sign language is the same as spoken language or really ANY language. It changes over time. Older generations may use certain words or grammar. Kind of like in old England, way back when. We don’t speak that way anymore.
[JI] Shakespeare [JE] Right like Shakespearean. We don’t speak that way at all. Of course not! It’s the same with sign language. It’s very different back then as to what it is now. Each generations it changes. A little bit of change over time. That’s normal. It’s a natural process of life. Things change over time and there’s nothing right or wrong about it. You can see variations and think maybe something is an older sign and maybe something is newer. Just be aware of it is all. [JI] Right, it’s the same as things change over time because they add in new slang words. Even for the two of us, who are in our 30s, you know 30, 31, even our signing style is maybe different than younger people and their signing style. We look at them and say “what does that mean?”, “what is that?”. Because people make up cool new signs to match new words or new concepts. Things they didn’t have before. Maybe sign language changes over time meaning it’s adapting to better representations of concepts. So, for example in the past they had philosophy. Now many people sign philosophy, at least that I know. Maybe culture. Before it was signed this way with a “C”. Which is some sort of a representation, but now they sign culture this way, which is different. It’s a better representation of what it means. So things are always changing. Deaf people are always trying to make up better representations of their language. So that’s another reason things change over time. Just like any other language and I think that’s pretty cool. You’re always learning. You never stop learning. [JE] So it’s just important if you’re learning sign language or you know sign language, keep an open mind. Don’t assume if you see something different that it’s wrong. Ask them “what does that mean?”. “Where did you learn that from?” Just take note of it… and that can be cool. Maybe it’s something older or something newer or it’s regional. There’s so many different reasons for what you’ll see. [JI] Especially important for interpreters! Hopefully you liked this video, and if you did click LIKE. Remember to subscribe. [JE] Also, if you want to provide support, we have a few different options. You can look at our merch store. See if you’d like to buy a shirt or a sticker. Also, you can look at our Patreon which has cool different perks depending on the level of what you want. We also have a one-time donation through Ko-fi for any amount, whatever you’d like. Or you can just share, we always appreciate that. Thank you! [JI] Thanks so much for watching and see you in the next video. Bye! ♪♪♪

20 Replies to “Does Sign Language Change Over Time? ⎮ ASL Stew”

  • I think a lot of people don't know/understand that sign languages are languages that work and develop like every other language.
    Where I'm learning sign language there are different teachers (all native signers) and you never have the same teacher another time after the course is over so that you get used to how different people sign and there are quite some differences despite the fact that Austria is really small and they all (try to) use the dialect of the city/state I live in.

  • I know in BSL, particularly among younger users, phone is often signed as if you were holding a phone and texting. This makes perfect sense to me as text is a simpler method of communication for many d/Deaf people.
    For reference the sign is on the first video on this link. She does three variations and it's the last one.

  • I notice a lot different sign language since I was born in 1960's. I love to learn new signs. I don't know if you know that they sign different from east to west and north to south like deaf people in east, they sign fast and deaf people in west, they sign slow. One of my friend who was from New York and she signs fast. I can't catch her cuz I'm from Colorado. LOL Finally she gets it and she signs little bit. Now much better! It really no matter how fast or slow. It depends where people live. I'm glad you both brought it up. Thanks for sharing! 🤗

  • It is just the same as English. English changes with the younger crowd because they come up with new slangs. So it is the same.

  • I'm subscribed to some ASL-themed FB pages, and I have gotten the distinct impression that there is also political motivation behind a lot of the changes we're seeing, i.e., an attempt to erase all "English" influences from ASL.

  • Thank you so much! This helps a lot. I help a lady at the nursing home where I live and she signs some things differently so its nice to know and be more aware of the signs that she uses that maybe she used to when she was growing up and now. Again Thank you so much!


    Can you share this ASL (American Sign Language) page? To start conversation.

  • I'm a long time viewer and have an interest in language. I loved your video and wanted to point out something you may not have been aware of. Modern Linguists classify Shakespeare as Modern English. In fact I think being aware of this helps re-enforce your point all the more. I can dig up scholarly articles on this subject if you'd like.


  • Hey guys! I'm a high school student who's planning on becoming an interpreter and I've been looking at RIT/NTID for college. I know Jill went there and I was wondering if you could make a video about your experience there and if you would recommend the college/program? Thanks, love you guys!! 🙂

  • Great topic for awareness. I just learn last month the new sign for "deaf culture", then wondered how long it's been out. Do you know?

  • I know you guys are busy but I love watching your videos so much and I would love if you posted more 😉

  • Hey Jill and Jenna, sorry I have quite a long question/essay for you guys…lol
    I've been interested in deaf culture ever since I was 10 years old. My best friend's parents were deaf, and so her and her sister's first language was ASL. They would try to teach it to me on and off, but I never caught on to it completely. Now, I am 20 years old, have been following your channel for about a year or more now, and I really want to become fluent in sign language.

    I had a question about different Sign Languages. I know here in America, ASL is the most popular sign language used within the deaf community. But I have questions about PSE (Pidgin Signed English) and SEE (Signing Exact English), which I found online to be the two other less-commonly used sign languages here in the U.S. How do you guys perceive these two other types of sign language, and can you understand someone if they speak these languages with you, rather than ASL?

    I think grammar is a big thing affecting my learning ASL. I just wanted to know your guys' opinions on these other sign languages and if it is worth it to learn PSE or SEE? Or should those seeking to learn sign language as a secondary language to English, just tough it out and try to forget about English grammar when learning ASL? I know it is a completely different language, so I know this last question is kind of a dumb question lol.
    Thanks so much, and I hope this comment wasn't wayyy too long to respond to. Much Love <3 <3 <3

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