Imitation of Motions in TSL

As a visual language, TSL features a large number of motions and descriptions. By imitating what they see through manual articulations, facial expressions, and even body movements, the deaf are able to describe the appearance, thickness, and color of different objects and organisms and to mimic various kinds of human operations. Perhaps this is why verbs abound in Taiwan Sign Language.Imitation of operations: signers may pretend to carry a load over their shoulders or to tap or beat something.Combination of instruments and operations: When the deaf describe operations, they not only imitate motions but also mimic the instruments or objects involved. For example, when signing sweeping floors, one straightens one’s palm so that it looks like a broom; when signing vessels entering ports, one curves the palm to represent the shape of a vessel; when signing making phone calls, one dials with one hand and mimics the shape of a handset with the other.Expressing nouns through imitation of motions: the sign for wagui, a kind of savory rice pudding, is created by curving one’s hand to represent a bowl and using the other hand to pretend to scrape the pudding out of the bowl; the sign for automobile is displayed by pretending to use a steering wheel. These expressions denote both the verb and the noun, and they sometimes even stand alone as short sentences.Imitation of motions endows TSL with life, flexibility, and theatricality. It also makes it difficult to estimate the size of the vocabulary of TSL, because one never knows when new signs are created to imitate new motions and when those new signs enter the mainstream vocabulary. Moreover, the denotation and meaning of an expression may vary significantly depending on the context.