sign language in the southern US- slower?


  1. The sign languages e.g. ASL, that are used by the hearing impaired are subject to regional dialects just as spoken language is.

  2. US southern spoken dialects are slower than the dialects of the midwest and upper east.


  1. Are the dialects of sign language in the south slower too?

  2. And if so, is it due to the slower speech of the hearing speakers who also sign, or is there something inherent about the south (culture or weather) that leads to slower speech, spoken or signed?


Yes. Go to a mirror, hold up one hand, palm to you, fold down the 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th digits.

Why? I’m not asking this in bad faith. I’m a southerner who speaks slowly. I’m in the midwest. And I’m studying the implications of sign language in the court system. Not trying to piss anyone off.


I don’t have an answer, but I don’t think this will end up being the case; ASL doesn’t have a southern accent, or any other dialectal influence; a word is a word is a word. And I’ve never seen any indication that ASL is paced in accordance with actual spoken dialogue, so I don’t think there’s any connection.

Ignatz. I’m gonna be charitable and assume that you didn’t realize that you were in GQ when you posted this.

Aside from being a rude post, you do know that you shouldn’t flame someone in GQ? Right?

Don’t do this again.

samclem GQ moderator

I didn’t. I went to new postings and did not notice GQ. I did think the post was dissing Southerners in general. I sincerely apologize.

Assumption number one is very correct. American Sign Language (ASL) is subject to a considerable amount of regional variation, so much so that there are signs which are used only at CSUN. It is also in a constant state of change. A new sign that recently evolved on the east coast, for example, is waggling an L back and forth while sticking out the tongue. It means ‘that’s awesome’.

I’m not sure about the answer to your question, but I’ve never heard anything to that effect. This is the largest clearinghouse of Deaf information anywhere on the Internet. You might be able to find an answer there, or at least the name of a person or entity who can supply you with an answer.

Washoe. An outstanding post.

That’s what the SDMB is all about.


While your question is still both valid and interesting, it’s worth bearing in mind that speech patterns vary more by urban-rural status than geographical location. That is, folk in Atlanta talk much more rapidly than those in rural Maine. I’m afraid I don’t have a cite for this one, I’m open to correction but I’m reasonably sure it’s the case.

Broadly speaking, the assumption still holds true anyway, as the southeastern US is more rural than the northeast, but the times they are a’ changin’.

(It’s further worth noting that an accent isn’t a dialect, even if it’s peppered with regionalisms.)

So you might have more luck looking into variation of ASL pacing among urban-vs-rural dwellers in similar regions than comparing different regions. I’ve no information on that, I’m afraid.

Speaking as a linguist, I’ve never seen any research that gave support to this stereotype. And speaking as a transcriptionist who works in Texas, I can promise you many people here speak plenty fast using a healthy Southern drawl.

You’ll probably find that there is a larger variation in speech tempo among individuals than among any averages of groups speaking various dialects, and there is an even larger variation in an individual speaker’s tempo given various emotional states and social situations.

What people haven’t pointed out yet is that ASL is completely unrelated to English - it’s a natural language that evolved from a creole of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language and French Sign Language (LSF). Martha’s Vineyard, back in the day, used to have an extremely high rate of congenital deafness due to the small gene pool of its early settlers. Among the hearing, bilingualism in English and MVSF was, according to stuff I’ve read, universal.

Interestingly, ASL is similar enough to LSF that speakers can stumble through a communication, whereas British Sign Language and ASL are completely unintelligible. ASL has a basic Topic-Comment typology - an object is named, and marked grammatically as the topic of the sentence, and then it’s commented upon. This is similar to Japanese and Chinese, and quite different from English’s basic subject-object-verb arrangement.

I’m trying to make the point here that ASL is not some way of representing English with your hands, or a dialect of English in any way - it’s a completely different language, and there’s no reason to suggest that bilingual folks - the hearing - would carry over any particular dialect trait between languages, especially considering just how vastly different the languages are in this case. And most speakers of ASL are, to my knowledge, deaf, and therefore unlikely to have any particular opinion regarding the speed of English speech.

But, of course, not all. Also, many deaf folk read lips, which would be an indicator of spoken pacing. In either case, there ought to be a decent number of people around who are qualified to give an opinion on the matter.

I’m not one of them. But this thread is interesting; I hope someone with decent factual data pops up to contribute.

Not exactly. A number of signs are the first letter of the English language word, put into some kind of motion. Purists hate that.

It depends what the word “related” means, but I would say that the fact that some signs in ASL are derived from the first word in English (using finger spelling) in some sort of motion doesn’t make ASL related to English. It’s as if one language which was unrelated to a second language began borrowing words from the second language, but they changed them to confirm to the phonemes of the first language and used endings from the first language on them. ASL doesn’t use the grammar of English, nor do most of the words come from English. In the usual sense of “related,” ASL is thus not related to English.

Word borrowing happens between unrelated languages all the time - there’s nothing special or unusual about that. And the point I was attempting to make was that ASL is not, in any sense, a variety or dialect of English. I mean, there’s plenty of Spanish speakers in Texas, but I’ve never noticed that their Spanish is somehow influenced by a southern drawl. There’s just no reason why it should in the first place - why would a dialectual feature of one language spread into another?

If the feature was dependant on the language, maybe it shouldn’t spread. I think the question is if the alleged “slowness” of American English in the southern states is due to language (which seems silly, as northerners speak essentially the same American English at a presumably faster rate) or due to regionalisms brought on by accent (do dipthongs take longer to pronounce?) or due to the age, social situation or urban/rural status of the speaker (as hazel-rah seems to indicate). Only if the third was the case would I expect ASL in the south to be demonstrably slower than in the north, and then only in groups which meet those criteria.

Not that it’s in any way related, but I’m as urban Yankee as they come, and I speak slower when I’m visiting my grandparents in Georgia. There’s just something about the pace of life that makes me slow down everything, and that includes my language.

But c’mon, isn’t there a single “speaker” of ASL* on the Dope who’s been to Alabama and Idaho?

*um, what do you call a person who knows ASL? “Speaker” sounds weird.

ASL signer.

I’m not any kind of expert on ASL, but we have two deaf programmers in the department where I work, and there’s always an ASL interpreter present when we have large departmental meetings. And the deaf programmers have exzpressed a strong preference for particular interpreters, because (no joke) some of the interpreters we’ve had learned sign language in places far from Texas, and, believe it or not, there are nuances (almost akin to accents or dialects among hearing people) and variations in ASL, depending where you learned it. Our programmers had a preference for peopel who “spoke” Texas ASL.

Obviously, I can’t tell you what the differences are, but there ARE subtle variations in ASL. And while a Southern ASL signer may not be slower than his counterparts in New York, there WOULD be some differentiation!

Nothing—they can’t hear you. :smiley:

Takin’ it to the people who know best

From American Sign Language: A Teacher’s Resource Text on Grammar and Culture, by Charlotte Baker-Shenk and Dennis Cokely. (Gallaudet Green Book Series):

Research has shown that Deaf Signers in the South tend to use more older forms of signs and that the historical changes described here occur more slowly in the South. Similarly, the research described in section D.3 suggests that females may also tend to use more of the older, less centralized signs. Thus, these historical changes occur gradually and are dynamic processes in the language.