Anyone here fluent in ASL?

It has become common for there to be an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter whenever a political figure speaks. It is typical for the interpreter to employ what appears to be highly dramatic facial expressions and physical postures along with signing, even when interpreting the most mundane comments.

Why do they include these facial expressions and posturing? Do these facial expressions, etc. assist an ASL listener? If so, what do they add?

As a non-ASL speaker the expressions and postures appear ridiculously over the top. But given how routine they are, I assume they also convey meaning. Is this the case?


In B(ritish)SL (my wife does some, and one of our close friends is a pro interpreter), the expressions and gestures etc. (some of which are entertainingly rude or derogatory) are very much a part of it, it made more sense to me overall when I realized that it is not English in signs, it is its own language (though English focused, at least partially).
Apologies for not specifically answering your ASL question, but I have a strong suspicion the answer will be the same there too :slight_smile:

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This helps. Thank you!

ASL is definitely its own language. This is why I am careful to state the expressions appear inappropriate to me as a non-ASL speaker.

I find confusing/fascinating the huge facial expressions when conveying something as straight forward as a telephone number.


languages are odd I guess, with A|BSL being no stranger than many :slight_smile:


I know a little ASL. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology which is home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (the first/largest technology school for deaf students in the world). From my understanding it is part cultural and part functional. Think of it as another knob to turn to resolve communication similar to voice inflection.


Regardless of party affiliation, regardless of what country you live in, you’d have to admit what politicians say can be so silly and over the top nothing an ASL interpreter would do in the way of emoting could adequately convey the silliness. Just saying …


ELK I’ll have to get my wifes take on this, she is a deaf interpreter in the school system. At the time she has a 3rd grader she is teaching ASL to. I must say I’m her worse student!!!. She says she wants to go on tour and sign for a band,. I just shake my head at her.


I remember a couple of years ago President Obama had one in use oversees and it found out later the guy wasn’t even an actual ASL interpreter. He sure looked good though.

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Interesting that you brought this up. I was just thinking the same thing about the seemingly wild expressions. They don’t seem to be universal, which led me to wonder if there are regional accents?

I can understand - and would expect - some expression for clarity, effect, etc.

But the expressions are so wild, dramatic, and over the top this explanation makes little sense. As I mentioned, there can be dramatic expressions while providing an 800 number, or for the most basic introduction of the next speaker.

I appreciate any insight.

I’ve wondered about the same thing, as I’ve been watching a lot of politicians and health experts do more that a few press conferences over the past several months.

Although … the subtle irony of posing this question on an audiophile-focused forum has not escaped me.

That said, looking forward to the insights Mrs. tmcqueen may offer us.

I enjoy the irony as well.

But I know we have a diverse, intelligent group and thus figured someone could help me understand. I appreciate the comments so far.

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Elk, I asked my wife about this and she said most definitely the facial and body movements make differences in the signs. One sign may mean one thing but with the animation of the body or face will change the meaning. She also said about half of the ASL is mouthed, because there isn’t a sign for every word. She gave an example of sign for bad and the context of the sentence would be word horror, they will sign bad but mouth horror.

This makes perfect sense.

Is there a reason the facial and body language is so big? It appears overly dramatic.

Also, why is there often large facial expressions for information such as a phone number? This is a passive, unambiguous bit of information.

Thanks for the post. Very helpful and it helps me understand. It is amazing gestures can convey so much meeting.

Why don’t they just put a live transcript scrolling across the bottom or side of the screen? Or is the ASL Interpreter Union that powerful?

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There may be some people in the audience who is hearing impaired.

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And hearing/seeing in your own language is a different experience than reading.


Seeing our facial expressions or hearing the speech would potentially save arguments here on occasion. Hard to tell via this soundless and faceless form of communication if the writer is arching an eyebrow, grinning, scowling or what just based on text.


Perhaps, but my question regarding ASL is not about facial expressions in general, but about the highly dramatic facial expressions and physical postures along with signing, even when interpreting the most mundane speech.

Those of us who are not hearing impaired do not engage in similar huge gestures and, in fact, if we did the listener would be very confused by the dramatic presentation of a phone number or the like.

Apologies - that wasn’t a comment on the subject - just a side note, as it made me think about how important facial expressions and body language are to any language.

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