Prosodic Markers in American Sign Language

(also called transition markers in ASL)

 

What is Prosody?

 

It has an essential role of organizing discourse into smaller units. It provides a way to categorize or show segmentation of idea units. For example, in spoken languages, prosodic markers include intonation, rhythm, tempo, stress, lengthening, volume and pausing.

 

In signed languages, prosodic structures is expressed by changes in eye aperture, head movement, body leans, lengthening of signs, cheek puffing, nose wrinkling and hand clasping, among other physical behaviors.

 

Research by Brenda Nicodemus (RID Views July 2008 Vol. 25, Issue 7) has shown 21 prosodic markers and then categorized under four articulator groups in ASL.

 

See the table below:

 

Table 1: ASL PROSODIC MARKERS

 

HANDS

HEAD & NECK

EYES, NOSE & MOUTH

BODY

Held handshape

Head tilt

Eyebrows

Body lean

Hand clasp

Head turn

Eye gaze shift

Body movement

Fingers wiggling

Head nod

Eye aperture

Visible breath

Hands drop

Head shake

Nose wrinkling

Shoulders raise

Signing space

Side to side

Mouth gestures

 

 

Neck tensing

Puffed cheeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prosodic markers below are most frequently used according to the research.

 

Table 2: FREQUENCY OF PROSODIC MARKERS

Articulator Category:

Most Frequent Prosodic Markers:

Hands

Hand Clasp

Head and Neck

Head Tilt (F/B)

Eyes, Nose and Mouth

Eye Aperture

Body

Body Lean

 

This research also studied the number of prosodic markers in a two second presentation. It was predicted there would be around 2 or 3 prosodic markers in a two second interval but it was found there were 7 prosodic markers in a two second presentation. Therefore, prosody is an important skill to learn if one wishes to be clear communicating in ASL.

 

Brenda L. Aron 2008