“Do Sign Languages Have Accents?” Video collaboration between Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet and Mental Floss

The “Do Sign Languages Have Accents?” video was created by our department in collaboration with Mental Floss. Assistant Professor Julie Hochgesang worked closely with Arika Okrent, a regular Mental Floss contributor who also graduated from our program and has written great content like this, this, and this about signed languages. Along with being a part of the filmed content, doctoral student Wink filmed and edited the video content. Other members of the department also appear on the video: Nozomi Tomita, Ardavan Guity, Amelia Becker, Heather Hamilton, Casey Analco, Ariel Johnson, Anna Lim Franck, Paul Dudis, Larrisa Lichty.

Screenshot of a Facebook post by Mental Floss showing a video with a woman in mid-sign

Screenshot of the Facebook post by Mental Floss featuring the video

The video was originally posted on the Mental Floss Facebook account on September 7, 2017. We are sharing it again here via our YouTube account and blog.

We are hoping this is the start of many more videos in which we collaborate with Mental Floss. We are planning to cover lexical variation, the role of facial expressions (and other nonmanual signals) in signed languages, and depiction. What else would you like to see featured in future videos? Comment on our YouTube video or send us a tweet.


Transcript of captions and video descriptions with time stamps:

(there is no audio track for this video)

00:00 The background is a green screen. Julie, a white woman with long brown hair, tattoos on her arms, a long necklace with a white stone on the bottom, is standing on the right. She is dressed in a black top and gray shirt.

00:01-00:06 Captions in yellow appear on the screen while the woman is signing, “Do sign languages, like American Sign Language (ASL), have accents?”

00:08-00:09 Julie is standing in the middle. “The answer is… of course!”

00:10-00:15 “But what does “accent” mean in a language that doesn’t use voice?”

00:16-00:20 Julie is standing on the left. “For vocal languages, accent is a distinctive way of speaking that SOUNDS different.”

00:21-00:27 “The way it sounds can indicate where a person comes from or what their language community is.”

00:28-00:30 “Sign languages are used in different places and communities too.”

00:31-00:37 “They have distinctive ways of signing that LOOK different. That’s what “accent” is for sign languages.”

00:38-00:41 Julie is standing in the middle. “Sign language accents can have to do with where you’re from.”

00:42-00:49 “For example, New Yorkers have a reputation for signing fast.”

00:49-00:57  The video cuts to different video footage in which Vance, a young white man (in his 20s) with glasses and beard and dressed in a dark gray top, is standing in a room with stools, tables and glass window walls are visible behind him. White text appears on the bottom left, “Deaf Comedian” By Vance Youngs https://youtu.be/rhVHiUrw55w There is no translation of his signed content (in which he talks about his mother who is from New York and has had influence on his own language) but it is evident he is signing fast.

00:58-01:01 The video cuts back to the green background with Julie standing in the middle. “Other aspects of your social identity can affect your accent in sign language.”

01:02-01:07 The woman is standing on the left. “For example, your age. Sign can look different depending on whether you’re older or younger.”

01:10-01:11 The video cuts to different video footage (which has been slowed down) in which an older black man with glasses and beard and dressed in a striped button shirt along with a vest is sitting in a room in which display cases and walls full of framed pictures are visible behind him. There is no translation of his signed content in which he fingerspells “prom” and his P is produced with all other fingers but the index finger extended with the thumb. Online text appears: “Austin – Our Community – Convo” by Convo Relay https://youtu.be/EpT9EvaEg4E”

01:12 The video cuts back to the green background with Julie standing on the left.

01:12-0:18 “What specific features identify this as an older accent? Notice the handshape “P”, usually pronounced like this.”

01:16 The video freezes while Julie demonstrates how “P” is typically produced by an ASL signer then again at 01:19 with all of the fingers except the index finger with the thumb (like the older man’s production). Julie points at the fingers that are extended with the thumb.

01:19-01:25 “He has three fingers down here. There may be a tendency for older people to pronounce that handshape like this.”

01:25-01:34 Julie is standing in the middle. “People from other countries who come here and learn ASL produce sign differently too. They have a “foreign accent”.”

01:34-01:40 Another woman appears on screen. Nozomi is Asian, has medium-length black hear and is wearing a purple shirt. She signs the ASL words for “BODY” and “PHYSICAL” which also appears on screen as yellow text while the video freezes on her production of both (in which she produces with an upward movement instead of down).

01:41-01:55 Julie appears again on the left side of the screen. “She’s from Japan. She uses Japanese Sign Language (JSL). She came here and learned ASL. Some of her ASL signs look different. Instead of making signs like BODY and PHYSICAL with the standard downward movement, hers move in the opposite direction.”

01:55-01:57 Another man appears on screen. Ardavan is middle eastern with black hair and beard. He is dressed in an olive green shirt. He signs “USA” (which appears on screen as yellow text) while the video freezes on his production in which he fingerspells to the left using his right hand.

01:58-02:14 Julie appears again on the right side of the screen. “He’s from Iran. He uses their sign language: Zaban Eshareh Irani (ZEI). He came here, learned ASL with some slight differences. He signed USA moving toward the body instead of the standard away from the body.”

02:15-02:22 Julie appears in the middle of the screen. “We’ve seen some examples of a sign language foreign accent. There’s also something we might call a “hearing accent”.”

02:22-02:33 Amelia appears on screen. She is white with brown hair pulled back and wearing glasses. She has a black and gray vertically striped shirt on. She signs (talking about how accent is perceivable) but there is no translation provided so that the viewer can focus on how she produces sign.

02:33-02:40 Julie, again on the right side of the screen, “How can we characterize a hearing accent? There are two noticeable features in that example. First, the rhythmic quality is different. Second is the arm posture and higher signing space.”

02:41-02:47 Julie is on the left. “The sign language community has so much rich variation. Now that you know what to look for, can you catch the difference in accents?”

In the next two minutes, a montage of other signers is shown along with Julie, Nozomi and Ardavan. Heather, a white woman with curly brown hair, a blue top and a moon stone necklace. Casey is a white man with a beard and long black hair pulled back, glasses and a yellow plaid button shirt. Ariel is a black woman with mid-length curly black hair, silver dangly earrings and a dark gray long-sleeve shirt. Anna is an Asian woman with long curly hair and red lipstick wearing a yellow and white striped shirt. Paul is a white man with long brown hair pulled back, a beard with some white hair, a vertically striped white shirt under a tan blazer. Larissa is a white woman with a brown scarf wrapped around her head, red stud earrings and a green shirt. Wink is a white man with short yellow hair, a short goatee, a blue button shirt and a gray blazer.

The montage of signers has people signing the same sentence (with slightly varying messages) in different ways in order to show how accent shows up in different ways. They are all fluent ASL signers.

02:48 Heather “(I’m Hearing)”

02:49 Casey “(I’m Deaf)”

02:50 Ariel “(I’m Hearing)”

02:52 Anna “(I’m Deaf)”

02:54 Paul “(I’m Deaf)”

02:56 Larissa “(I’m Hearing)”

02:57 Nozomi “(I’m Deaf)”

02:58 Wink “(I’m CODA [Child of Deaf Adults])”

03:00 Amelia “(I’m Hearing)”

03:01 Ardavan “(I’m Deaf from a Deaf family too)”

03:03 Julie “(I’m Deaf)”

03:05 Heather “(I was born in Philadelphia, live in DC)”

03:07 Casey  “(I was raised in Indiana)”

03:09 Ariel  “(I’m from Texas)”

03:11 Anna  “(I’m from Manila, Philippines)”

03:13 Paul  “(I’m from Michigan)”

03:15 Larissa  “(I’m from Pennsylvania)”

03:18 Nozomi “(I’m from Japan)”

03:20 Wink  “(I was born in Minnesota)”

03:21 Amelia  “(I’m from St. Louis, MO)”

03:24 Ardavan  “(I’m from Iran)”

03:26 Julie  “(I’m from Chicago and DC)”

03:28 Heather “(I use ASL)”

03:30 Casey  “(I sign ASL)”

03:32 Ariel  “(I sign ASL)”

03:34 Anna  “(I use ASL, Phillipines Sign Language and a little Japanese Sign Language)”

03:41 Paul  “(I know ASL and a little of some others. Italian Sign Language, Thai Sign Language … mostly ASL)”

03:57 Larissa  “(I sign ASL)”

04:00 Nozomi “(I know ASL, JSL, Hong Kong Sign Language)”

04:04 Wink  “(I sign ASL)”

04:07 Amelia  “(I sign ASL)”

04:08 Ardavan  “(I use ZEI and ASL)”

04:12 Julie  “(I sign ASL)”

At the end, white text shows up on a black screen.

“Narrated by Dr. Julie Hochgesang, assistant professor, Department of Linguistics, Gallaudet University”

“Produced by Dr. Julie Hochgesang, assistant professor, Department of Linguistics, Gallaudet University; Arika Okrent, Mental Floss; Wink, Department of Linguistics, Gallaudet University”

On another screen, “Thanks to: (in order of appearance) Dr. Julie Hochgesang, Vance Youngs, Nozomi Tomita, Ardavan Guity, Amelia Becker, Heather Hamilton, Casey Analco, Ariel Johnson, Anna Lim Franck, Dr. Paul Dudis, Larissa Lichty, Wink”

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