Syntax of Sign Language

Syntax is most commonly defined as how sentences are structured in a language. Sentences in ASL generally follow a certain structure, known as “time” “topic” “comment” structure. Not only is this structure different in spoken English, but there is a variation in the way it can be used.

Example : I walked my dog last week

There are many ways to sign this sentence

Subject + Predicate

“I walk my dog”

Time + Subject + Predicate or Time + Topic + Comment

“Week-past [first person pronoun] walk my dog”

Subject + Action + Object

“My dog, I walk week-past”

Although there are two ways to say the sentence, there are also different ways to sign the word walk i.e. using different hand shapes or in different contexts (“stroll”, “hike”, “walk-to” etc.).

Some people consider it more important that the correct sign is chosen, rather than the combination of signs be used in the correct order.

natives., A. (n.d.). Syntax in Sign Language and ASL. Sign Language - ASL. Retrieved May 16, 2011, from