American Sign Language: Using the Whole Body to Sign

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ASL video

The starting point for this article are the following videos: American Sign Language Browser. It has been compiled by Michigan State University and the person demonstrating ASL signs for a multitude of situations and expressions is a very good example for how body language in the form of mimicry and posture helps to convey and clarify ASL. The site has a side bar where, in alphabetical order, you can click on any topic you wish to express in ASL. Let’s look in detail at several examples which make it clear how the two forms of mute communication work together.

Examples of Body and Sign language combinations

Go back to the above mentioned site and click on


Watch how the hand movement is accompanied by movement of the lips which form into a ‘shhhh’.

Click on accident

The hands crash into each other. The facial expression changes dramatically, lips are tightened and pulled back and the eyes are squeezed shut, something a person who doesn’t depend on sign language would also do to express shock, noise or even pain.

Click on accomplishment

The hands and fingers are thrown up in triumph and the face breaks into a big smile, indicating: “I’ve done it!”

Click on banter

There is a frown on the forehead and the lips are pursed in anger.

Click on beautiful

The hands caress the face to show how beautiful it is, but without the accompanying smile the sign would be meaningless.

Click on calm down

The hand movement is quite explicit, but is emphasized by the downward nod of the head.

Click on eager

The hands are rubbed together in anticipation and excitement, but watch how the eyes open wide.

Click on fear

This is a good example for how body movement helps the hand signs. The entire upper body jerks back in ‘fear’.

Click on glad

Again, the facial expression is crucial. The big smile expresses happiness.

Click on grumble

The entire face contracts to express dissatisfaction

Click on headache

The fingers, pointing at the head somewhat obscure the face, but even so you can observe how the mouth contracts in an expression of pain.

Click on implore

This is a good example for how body movement and mimicry are combined in an entreaty.

Click on laugher

That expression nearly doesn’t need any ASL at all.The facial expression is enough to convey the meaning.

Click on nasty

The lips purse in disgust.

Click on nervous

The hand shakes and the mouth opens like taking a deep breath.

Click on object (verb: to object)

The face contracts in disapproval


When learning ASL it must be taken into account that body language as practiced in every day life forms an integral part of mute communication. Without its addition, many signs would be meaningless on their own. The above video is an excellent teaching instrument because it contains a great variety of ASL signs and can easily be accessed because of its alphabetical arrangement.