BTG 018 Sign Language History, Grammar, and Word Usage with David Peach

This is an audio podcast. In some cases, the link to the audio file will be at the bottom of the post.

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After our audio interview, David Peach was kind enough to send along some additional information (below) that we didn’t get to in the interview and to answer some questions people asked after-the-fact on Twitter. You can find David on Twitter as dpeach and at his podcast webpage,



If you live long enough in the same town you can start to see the influences of individual teachers or programs. You see how new signers are using certain signs, and it can tell you who their teacher was or which school they went to. This is easier to see in hearing students since they are trying to copy their teachers exactly and have not grown into their own style.


The way you hold your hand when pointing to a person or object tells whether the pronoun is possessive, reflexive or any other type.


Rarely used; instead the  meaning is shown in the way you sign the sentence.


Not used.


The way you orient your palm (either toward or away from the speaker) makes a difference in what the number indicates. Although it would be understood either way, there are some observable conventions that are seen in using numbers. For example, numbers in time are always done with the palm facing away from the speaker.


There are many cases where one English word will have multiple signs depending on the meaning. The reverse is true in that there are some signs that mean several English words. Then there are signs like the word “wash.” The sign for washing dishes is different from the sign for washing clothes, and the sign for machine washing is different from the sign for hand washing clothes.


Many questions are usually asked in a “statement-question word” format. For example, “Man drive. Who?” (Who is the man driving the car?) You indicate a question is being asked by using facial expressions. WHQ (who, what, when, where, why and how questions) are asked with lowered eyebrows. Yes/no questions are asked with raised eyebrows. Both WHQ and yes/no questions have a slight forward lean of the body or head.


The signs for LATE (meaning incomplete action) and FINISH (meaning completed action) are grammatically used differently than we would use these words in English. If I asked you the question “Did you eat?” Your proper sign language response is not “yes” or “no”–rather it is “finish” or “late.” All yes/no questions that refer to actions should be answered with  “finish” or “late.”

Argentina has a group of signs that are used like the “late” and “finish” signs (however have a completely different meaning). They are the words that mean “exist”/”presence”/”possess”(“estar,” “haber,” “tener”). At their core, they all mean that something exists or something “is.” However, in spoken Spanish you would never use those words interchangeably because they have totally different functions in grammar. When teaching the sign language here, that has been one of the biggest hurdles that the students have had to overcome. As native Spanish speakers, they have trouble justifying in their mind that one sign means everything that “estar,” “haber” and “tener” can mean.


Update: David sent links to some of the sign language poetry videos he mentioned in the audio podcast:
Gunfight between 2 cowboys.

Chess match. Funny.

A whole search page of them.

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3 Responses to BTG 018 Sign Language History, Grammar, and Word Usage with David Peach

  1. Jonathan Peach says:

    During your interview someone had asked the question about poetry. Trix Bruce is a Deaf woman who does poetry, storytelling, and some comedy. I found a youtube video of her doing some poetry about a surfer: Like David said, go to youtube and you can find almost anything. Also if you search for Keith Wann you will find multiple videos of comedy routines, commercials, and interpreting music.

    Well I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much, by writing to “Grammer Girl.” Please go easy on me!!! 🙂

  2. Geoff Pope says:

    Captivating in-depth interview. I especially liked Peach’s visual/psychological explanation regarding noun-adjective syntax (e.g., “car red” vs. “red car”) and his talking about personal proper-noun signs (e.g., “D”-scratching-cheek for his own name).

    Related to your brother, that’s interesting about his having American Sign Language as an option for a foreign-language requirement. I had no idea until now that ASL is so popular in higher ed:

    On a related side note, one of my students wrote a paper on teaching sign language to young children, even babies. From her research, she found that babies cry less who understand and use even only a few “signs” because they are better able to express themselves.

    Regarding the question about ASL poetry, here’s a YouTube link with the most-viewed videos:

    Okay, I got a bit carried away with this “comment.”

  3. Eric Margerum says:

    A really enjoyable and interesting interview. I performed in a production of Hawaiian Folk Tales in Los Angeles about 20 years ago that included sign language as a part of the choreography and poetry of the stories. I still remember the sign for Taro root but not much more. Now I work for a university that offers has a site specializing in American Sign Language and I am so impressed by the translators who attend our graduation ceremonies. I can appreciate what is involved and now I understand more about it thanks to this podcast.

    Keep up the good work.

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