1) Inventing your own ASL classifiers - is it allowed? Yes and No.
Clarity vs Gibberish
A lot of times ASL students of any level question why is it a lot of signs they invent when it requires to using ASL Classifiers is not acceptable but when I create never used before signs to describe a person, place or thing - it's allowed.
What you're really asking is how do I know which ASL classifier is acceptable and not acceptable?
Knowing how to tell which spontaneous ASL classifier is acceptable requires a lot of studying over time of Deaf people's usage of ASL classifiers in their stories. There is a certain pattern and certain ASL linguistic rules of what is allowed and not allowed. It's still not written in stone as it's still evolving yet there is a "unspoken" consensus of what is allowed and not allowed.
There are certain positioning of your fingers, hands, wrists and arms that can hurt your body.
Then there are certain hand shapes that can look pornographic and that's unacceptable.
There are also certain movements that is not widely used.
Through years of honest and concentrated studying native Deaf or high-advanced ASL signers -- you'll start to intuitively understand what works and what does not work.
You are highly encouraged to attend as many ASL Linguistic workshops from proficient leaders that are fluent ASL classifier signers. Check your local ASLTA branch in your state and see what they can offer or go to an ITP department at a college and see who is providing a workshop in your state or nearby. Lastly, if you prefer one and one private tutoring in mastering ASL Classifiers - meet me in person or via a web-cam. I LOVE teaching ASL classifiers - it's one of my favorite part of ASL that I enjoy sharing.
Importance of emoting in ASL story telling
Stand up Comedian vs Paper-face
You have two choices - if you use the route as the "stand up comedian" - you'll have a lifelong faithful audience that always wants to watch you. If you go through the "paper face" route, you'll notice a lot of glazed eyeballs staring vacantly and yawning. Take your pick.
Let your face do the "talking" - just like a lot of action oriented stories is shown mostly through mime - (body showing stories, emotions, concepts through your body) - make the emotions show through your face - "face-mime" --- it makes an incredible positive impact to listeners.
Volume of intensity of situations - it's all in the face and body language
Just like in hearing folks -if you raise your voice loudly it will convey to listeners you're
a) angry b) shocked c) scared or d) excited
If you whisper it tells listeners that you're either being secretive or feeling shy or mortified.
Now apply the exact same concept of intonations that is channeled through your facial expressions, neck, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers.
What consists of showing emotions through the face? Wrinkles of forehead, eyebrows, nose, cheeks, lips, teeth, neck, shoulders, and muscular tension or even relaxation.
Benefits of emotions showing through your face:
You improve your ASL fluency by nearly 50% already once you master it
You capture your listener's attention automatically
Your Story telling improves 80% (the 20% of how you structure your story to keep listener's attention stay with you from beginning to the end)
You'll feel the freedom of expressing yourself be a creative cathartic release
How can I overcome my fear, shame, stage-fright, or embarrassment from emoting during signing?
1. Fear of emoting:
Are you fearful of what others will think of you?
If hearing folks look at you funny - let them --- they won't understand no matter how much you explain to them on an intellectual level. In general, Americans are not as expressive like Europeans --- release the need to get approval from the non-ASL communities. The Deaf folks who are fluent signers will LOVE and respect you more if you emote clearly and honestly when story telling in ASL.
2. Feeling shameful when emoting:
Society, family, peers sometimes have had negatively influenced us not to emote our honest feelings or to play down our body language so not to cause too much attention. It's the very opposite in the Deaf world - I'm not advocating to become a clown, (although that's a great idea to learn facial expression skills, but that's another story!), I do encourage you to become comfortable using your face and body to express informative details that hands alone cannot always convey.
3. Struggling with stage-fright - on stage or off:
Emoting for some people can feel like being naked under the spotlight on stage in front of a live audience. Some people just cannot take their mask off and feel comfortable showing their emotions whether it's their own true feelings or pretend feelings for an invented story.
Feel out your audience - no matter the size - 1 person or 100 people -- if you know they're receptive and respectful --- allow yourself to give permission to emote in increments.
I have had acute stage fright when I was in the leading role playing Sarah for a Deaf play called Children of a Lesser God - on the final night of my play, at the very end of the play - all of the suddenly anxiety swept through my body and I was in sheer terror and my mind completely blanked out... my cast member was no help in giving me clues for my line --- however, I learned to fake it until I made it through the horrifying silent lapse. Fake it until you make it - and people will hardly notice. Don't freeze up and don't try too hard --- get in the center of yourself and be real.
4. Feeling embarrassed when emoting while signing:
You're only feeling embarrassed to emote while signing mainly due to worrying what other hearing non-fluent ASL signers make think of you or feeling embarrassed that you're not good enough in front of other Deaf native signers or ASL interpreters or in front of cruel people who are unsupportive and criticize your every move. Learn to juggle healthy constructive feedback from helpful ASL teachers/tutors/mentors (professional and ethical) and reject people who are just out to hurt you out of jealousy, pettiness or immaturity. Always watch fluent ASL signers' facial expressions and body language in sections - start studying how they use their face to express emotions in ASL stories. Then the next meet, study how ASL signers use their shoulders and arms and pacing and tension of the muscles. In every meet, you'll always discover something new that you didn't notice before. Imitate until you're mirroring their exact moves.
Hopefully these tips will help you break out of your shell and allow the light in you shine through for eager ASL audience to benefit listening to your stories through their eyes.
First Fun Quiz about RaVen:
RaVen's high school was:
1. Howell High School
2. Katzenbach Deaf School
3. Model Secondary School for the Deaf
4. Maryland School for the Deaf
The answer is both 1 and 3.
Until the next time, Happy Valentine's Day everyone! Valentine holiday always brings both a sad and happy memories for me - it's my best deaf friend from MSSD, Vestie Mae Jennings' birthday - she crossed over in 1995 and I always remember to celebrate her special day.