What are fake accents like in signed languages?
March 2, 2018 11:21 AM   Subscribe

When speaking English and quoting another person, the speaker will often "do a voice" to indicate the speech of another person. This has various specific forms, with many connotations. Does something similar exist in ASL or other sign languages? What does it look like?

A person quoting another person might make their voice higher pitched to quote a woman, or lower pitched for a man, irrespective of the gender of the person quoting. Some voices would be insulting or mocking, some are just normal. They aren't really trying to be regional accents, although that might be incorporated also. They're just a change of voice to indicate, and often give an opinion of, another speaker.
Do people who sign do something similar? What kinds of motions would have widely recognized connotations?
posted by Adridne to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Ive seen this type of thing done with facial expression, but a few classes in ASL doesn’t make me an expert, so there may be much more I don’t know about.

I’ve seen ASL speakers use the physical characteristics of stereotypes of people. Miming the stance of a posh lady or a little kid or whatever. They tend to mix these stances and facial expressions with the signs so it becomes more of an accent I guess. I never really thought of it as an accent, but that does make sense.

This video of a popular beginner asl story features a few different characters, and the narrator puts a small personalized spin on each. I’ve seen it much more exaggerated then she does it, but that was for a classroom. This is probably more realistic.
posted by greermahoney at 12:09 PM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, varying the size, speed and intensity of the movements - I can picture various exaggerated signs, tight, quick signs, varying the bounciness of a sign, etc. But I'd agree that a lot of it is facial expressions and body language.
posted by Pax at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

As someone who is deaf, I wouldn't characterize it as an "accent". Signers have definite personalities that they bring to their signing. Some are subdued, others are energetic. The bounce referred to in another reply is not used by some, whereas others are very bouncy.

One thing that may differentiate signers is if they are signers from birth or if they learned sign as adults. But again, that's not hard and fast.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:57 PM on March 2, 2018 [2 favorites]

I knew a woman who grew up with her first language being a sign language from Eastern Europe - I forget which one. Then she moved to Germany as a teenager and learned German sign language. She said Germans thought she signed "with an accent" and it was something like, signs in her first language were very commonly made in a diagonal movement and so she often moved her hands more diagonally in German sign than Germans do.

So accents are definitely possible. I don't know whether someone would do that sort of foreign accent on purpose when quoting her, but I don't see why not.
posted by lollusc at 6:47 PM on March 2, 2018 [3 favorites]

I have witnessed all of the above answers as ways to express "accents" or personality/conversational styles. ASL also has something called "role shifting," which is when you move your upper torso to indicate a shift in who's speaking (most often this is shoulders shifting side to side to indicate more than one person being involved, but can also be eye gaze shifting up/down to indicate a power differential). If I was trying to quote someone, I'd definitely throw in a torso shift to indicate it's not ME anymore.
posted by carlypennylane at 7:10 PM on March 2, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is all super interesting, thank you!
I agree that "accent" doesn't quite describe what I'm going for, but it's the closest I could come up with.
posted by Adridne at 7:38 PM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

One of my professors in college had done her PhD work on a sign language community in New Zealand (not sure which sign language, sorry) and she recounted a lot of stuff about regional area accents in terms of how people held their hands. I wish I could say more here, but I think everyone else has covered this better than I could.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:11 AM on March 3, 2018

Re Fukiyama's comment: when I was learning to sign 40+ years ago (unfortunately, I've forgotten 98% of what I learned), it was considered the highest compliment if someone asked a signer if they were deaf. (No one ever asked that if me.)
posted by she's not there at 10:23 PM on March 3, 2018

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