Whereas spoken languages can only express one phoneme at a time, sign languages are able to express multiple meaning units simultaneously. Using both hands, signers can simultaneously show different signs at different positions. As a result, sign languages are more flexible and visual. The use of space is very important, especially when referring to a person who is not physically present or distinguishing two different individuals in the same conversation. For example, in a conversation involving individual A, who is not physically present, the signer may sign the name of A (or display A’s sign name) upon the first mention but thereafter refer to A using the sign there at a certain direction. During the course of the conversation, that direction or that position duly functions as a pronoun referring to A. If the conversation touches upon another individual, B, then the signer will refer to B by signing at another direction or position, which thereafter becomes the pronoun for B until the conversation ends or changes focus (he name or the sign name of the same individual is rarely repeated in the same conversation).Moreover, after a certain position or a direction becomes a pronoun, verbs that involve the pronoun as their subjects or objects are signed at the same direction or position. When reading sign languages, it is important to remember what each position or direction refers to once it has been marked.
- We usually do Tai Chi together. If one of us doesn't feel well, the other two will take him to see a doctor. We are close like real brothers. Lao Wang is the oldest, Lao Li is the second oldest and I am the youngest.
- I have called the doctor but there was no response. I made a phone call to him already.
- He never frets for too long. He is a nice person.
- Before I go out, my apprentice will receive a thorough briefing regarding things in our shoe shop. He will take care of the shoe shop. We usually take turns and help each other.
- Seven? Tai Chi? I am 77 years old and he is older than me. We gather together once a week to stay close. We are happy.