Non-Manual Signals in ASL
Video Review by Chris Wixtrom © 1997
Deaf Tend Your: Non-Manual Signals in American Sign Language
by Byron Bridges and Melanie Metzger, Calliope Press, 1996.
Distributed by Sign Enhancers, Inc. 800.767.4461.
Order #NM-B/V. Book/Video package, $75.
Research on American Sign Language continues to progress at a rapid rate, but it is rare that palatable new information is presented to the public on a silver platter. Bridges and Metzger have served us well, though, and we should thank them! (Do it by buying their video/book set!)
Students of sign language, virtuoso interpreters, native signers, and everyone else along the sign language-acquisition spectrum will benefit from the study of non-manual signals (NMS.) Forty-nine NMS are provided in this set, each clearly demonstrated in isolation, and within the context of two sample ASL sentences. Granted, the sentences are not always easy to see (you've got to have a quick eye and a colloquial context) but they do provide some idea of common NMS usage.
The limitation for the serious student of the language is that the grammatical information given on any single NMS is so minimal that it is difficult to know how to incorporate the signals properly when signing ASL. This drawback is freely admitted by the makers of the video/book set: they spend several minutes of the video (and several pages of the book) at the beginning and at the end of the presentation explaining that much more research needs to be done to give a precise picture of how these signals fit into the language. The authors claim that you can recognize a native signer by his/her use of NMS (often omitted or overlooked by other signers.) Bridges and Metzger advise you to supplement your sign-knowledge by pegging native signers and observing their NMS in action. However wise this advice, it would be difficult to follow without begging permission to videotape signed sequences, so that fleeting scenes might be slowed down enough for unpracticed eyes to "catch" the ephemeral NMS. So, watch the video, read the book, seek samples of native signing, and good luck with what you see!