Sign Language Expression: The Importance Of Gestures And Facial Expressions

Learn about the beautiful expressive characteristics of sign language. Discover the importance of using gestures and facial expressions when you communicate with the hearing-impaired.

Sign language is used all over the world by the hearing-impaired to communicate with each other and with those that hear.Sign language is more than just moving the fingers or hands; it is a viable, visible language in which gestures and facial expressions play a very important role.

Sign language is a combination of fingerspelling, lip formations, and signs which are all heavily reliant on gestures and facial expressions to effectively, convey meaning.Fingerspelling uses the hand in various positions to represent the letters of the alphabet.When fingerspelling is used, it is important that each letter is formed in a crisp, clear manner by the fingers.Sudden gestures during fingerspelling, i.e., dropping the hands or covering the mouth could convey confusion or double meaning.During fingerspelling hand gestures should be gradual but not bouncing or sudden.The palms of the hands should be held at a distance making it easy for the viewer to read both the fingers and lips simultaneously.Mouthing letter names to coincide with fingerspelling enables the hearing-impaired person to associate lip formations with the alphabet.This is especially important if the deaf person is trying to communicate with someone who is just learning how to sign.

Signs use visual imagery to convey ideas instead of single words.Signs are more reliant on gestures and facial expressions than fingerspelling.For example, a "yes/no" question requires raising the eyebrows and widening the eyes while leaning the head forward.On the other hand, a "wh-word" question, i.e., "what? where?" requires lowering the eyebrows and leaning the head forward.Eye gazes, eye shifts, clenched teeth, and head tilts are examples of gestures and facial expressions used to convey ideas of distance and direction.Comparisons between people, places and things are often expressed in head and body shift gestures.For example, raising the eyebrow while giving the sign for describing a person that is present is also used for someone who is absent, only the sign changes.It is therefore very important that the signer connects the correct facial expression with the particular sign.


Signs showing emotions such as joy, anger, tiredness, depression etc. need to be accompanied by the appropriate facial expression.Some of these signs are distinguished not by hand movements but by facial expression.The same sign can also be used to convey two meanings depending on the movement of the head or expressions of the face.For example, the sign used to express "much" is also used to express "how much?" the only difference is a questioning look for "how much?" If a gesture or expression is misplaced or omitted, the signer's intent could be confused or misread.Hearing-impaired persons do not read hand signs or fingerspelling as much as they read body language, gestures, and facial expressions.

Facial expression and gestures that are shown with varying degrees of motion, gentleness or force convey different meanings.They portray specific messages to the deaf person.For example, gentle crossing of the chest may be done to show love but a stronger, more forceful hugging of the chest would imply an almost idolizing type of love.The sign for "large, great, big, enormous, huge and immense" can be shown with the hands drawn apart in degrees to indicate the size. Quick movements combined with the sign for "decrease" indicates rapid reduction while a slower gesture would indicate a more incremental type of reduction.Even though motion and force are important factors in facial expressions and gestures, they should never be exaggerated but naturally presented.

Facial expressions and gestures should never be done in an unimaginative or detached fashion.Lack of enthusiasm on the part of the signer can send mixed messages to the hearing-impaired.They might conclude that the signer is really not eager to converse with them.Clear communication, sensitivity, and respect are an essential part of sign language expression because the viewer looks more at the face than the hands.

Sign language has crossed barriers because of its beautiful expressive characteristics.The facial expressions and gestures that accompany sign language have opened the way for visual articulation in art, drama, therapy, and many other non-traditional settings.It has become a language for both the hearing-impaired and the hearing.

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