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Giorgio Marchetti

Dear Edmund

I can only tell you that Italians do use widely signs when speaking (sometimes we only use hands and arms instead of voice...): we always accompany our emotional states not only altering the tone of voice but also using gestures.

Some of the more visible signs (made with hands and arms) mean something like:

"go to the hell"
"what do you want from me?"
"you are mad"
"I'll not do it certainly"
"I dont't care about it"
"be quite" or "go slowly"

Many other signs are available (also made with eyes, face expressions, and other body parts)

Are they deliberately or automaticaly added? I would certainly answer that they are automatic.

An old but anyhaow useful and general introduction to gestures and the use of body in communication is:

Michael Argyle, "Bodily communication", London 1975



Rick S

Facial expressions are certainly an important analog, but they also have morphological uses. (Raised eyebrows tag a yes/no question, for example.)

Emphasis: Exaggerated signs with raised eyebrows and a "cha" mouth morpheme.
Sarcasm: Exaggerated signs with a blank or contrasting facial expression.
Underscore: Repeated sign, or "true" sign (particle) at end of sentence.
End of conversational turn: Return hands to home position below the sternum.
Sigh: Recognizable from shoulder motion.
"Don't use that tone of voice with me": Assuming you mean something like "Don't talk disrespectfully to me," it would probably be signed something like TALK-TO-ME RUDE NOT-ALLOWED coupled with an angry face.

One scholarly reference I found was Brenda Nicodemus, Prosodic Markers and Utterance Boundaries in American Sign Language Interpretation (link here).
BLOGGER: Thanks for the details and link. With the 'don't talk to me in that tone of voice," I'm trying to get at both the disrespect and the tone. Can you sign something like 'don't talk to me with that rude face' or 'rude style of gesturing'? In other words, is there a way of being disrespectful not in the words but in the manner of signing itself?

Rick S

The answer is yes, but I'm not advanced enough to give a complete answer.

One thing you could do is shift a sign from its normal position to the nose. Nose signs are mostly vulgar, and considered rude in a register where respect is expected. So, for example, you could sign to a parent (YOUR) RULES at the nose to mean "your rules stink". (This is not a standard sign, but its meaning would be unmistakable.)

No doubt it would be possible to answer "don't talk to me with that rude signing style", though I think a terser response ("don't be rude") is more ASL-like. However, that might just be because, as a hearing person and beginner, I only sign in baby talk.


Do signers ever feel the need to express the equivalent of, "Don't speak to me in that tone of voice, young man?"
Yes; signers have teen-age children. :-)

“A basic maxim in linguistics is that anything can be expressed in any language”, and prosodics, including tone of voice, is an integral part of every language. Accordingly, visual languages express affect, sarcasm and all the rest.

Prosody proper concerns the speed and size of the signing: “sarcasm' miniaturizes the signs, while “shouting” makes them bigger and slower. Facial expressions, with their respective emotions, incorporate into the sentence along with eyegaze, orientation of the shoulders and body, and much more.

A simple demo clip.
BLOGGER: Thanks to everybody who responded to my query.

Grumpy Old Man

Watching a good ASL story-teller will leave not doubt. Some story-tellers will change personality for the various characters along with subtle shifts in body posture (e.g. a 2 person story might have the signer shift one or the other shoulder forward to show change in speaker). Do you remember back in the 1970s that hearing people would be able to make a strong statement but take it back immediately by pretending to spit on the floor. The same is accomplished in ASL with 'gestalt' shifts made by the signer. It has been 30 years since I was a sign-language interpreter so I no longer know the specifics. The other way was for the speaker to assign parts of conversation to fingers and then point when changing participants. Once the fingers are identified then you could point to a finger and use body to show sarcasm/contempt/admiration/etc.

I don't know if I am making sense so I will quit while I can.

Alan Coady

In some situations someone capable of speech may opt for a silent indication as it seems more suitable to the occasion - perhaps even more powerful. The example I'm thinking of is closing the eyes and slowly shaking the head to convey disillusionment or disaproval.

p.s. I really enjoy reading this blog. Congratulations on the book offer!

Jerry Moore

Language in Action. Reinterpreting Gesture as Language.
by Nicla Rossini
to appear. IOS Press: Amsterdam, Berlin, Oxford, Tokyo, Washington.

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