Variation in Styles of Signing

I’ve been teaching Auslan for a number of years now and yet I was still taken aback recently by a student’s question.

This student is relatively new to Auslan, is a quick-study and picking it up rapidly.

They attended a Deaf event and during conversations with Deaf/Auslan users, they noticed someone sign what looked like NAME, but the location was near the cheek rather than the temple. She wondered if there was another meaning for this sign and asked me about it. After discussing the potential context etc., we determined that it was indeed NAME. 

In my videos in the online course, you will often see me refer to citation form (CF) and parameters of signs (HOLME-NMF). Knowing the CF and HOLME of each sign is a critical part of learning and using Auslan.

My student was experiencing/learning about something else that I also discuss, and that is fluency or efficiency.

With fluency, Auslan users will not use the exact CF of all signs. Much like English speakers don’t use the exact and proper pronunciation of every word.

Consider: “How are you going?” vs. “Howya goin’?” or “What are you doing?” vs. “Whacha doin’?”.

The same goes for most other languages in the world.

In Auslan, the most common signs you may come across that may differ from citation form are (from my personal observations): NAME, KNOW and UNDERSTAND.

While this student knew about CF, HOLME and fluency, the experience of it still had them wondering about the sign they were observing.

Awareness of the citation form and parameters of each sign is essential in order to ensure that you, as an Auslan learner, produce the signs correctly. It is with time and continuous engagement in the language that fluency will be learned – both in the areas of readback and in production of signs.

Be mindful that Deaf people will sign differently all over Australia and you may even find variations within a state – much like hearing people may have accents or pronounce words slightly differently.

This does not make anyone ‘right’ or ‘wrong’; we simply have learned from a variety of many different sources and in a range of ways.  

Many factors contribute to the variations in style of signing that you may encounter.

Some of these factors could be:

  • Geographical location
  • Social groupings and history
  • Educational experiences
  • Age of learners
  • Family background
  • Degree of contact with Signed English and other languages

Don’t assume that the sign you have learned from someone is correct (Deaf or otherwise). There’s an element of copying signs from each other and sometimes we pick up signs that are incorrect and then go on to spread those incorrect signs in the community.

I have unwittingly done this myself which is why I am now constantly checking my signs. I signed IMPORTANT, CHANGE and EXCUSE incorrectly for many years until someone said something or I noticed the discrepancy myself.

Be mindful that there is an element of responsibility on the learner to ensure they are doing the correct sign (citation form). This can be checked in the Auslan dictionary (Signs of Australia) and/or on Auslan’s online Signbank or SignHow.

Hope you found this handy and keep up your Awesome Auslan!

(See blog: Auslan & Appropriation: Why We Are So Protective Of Our Language).