How Internet Slang Turns Into ASL

Douglas Ridloff and Tally.
Douglas Ridloff and Tally.

The internet’s rapid-fire creation of slang can come across awkwardly when spoken aloud. Do you pronounce LOL as elle-oh-elle or lowl. And even though the creator of GIF said it was pronounced as jiff, most everyone says hard-G gif.

The deaf community is also going through this translation process. According to a visual essay from Hopes&Fears, each new piece of slang involves a development period that whittles down many different interpretations. The website asked Douglas Ridloff, an ASL artist and educator, and one of his 12-year-old students to sign their versions of emoji, photobomb, selfie, duckface, SMH, and food coma. In each case, both signers created different solutions.

Here’s Doug on photobomb:

ASL is non-linear — a sign can incorporate several dimensions — temporal, spatial and numeral. For example, if a person is photobombing a crowd of people, this would require a different sign as opposed to a person photobombing another individual. This person also could photobomb within the foreground or in the background, which again would impact how the sign is executed. This also brings to question who the subject is — the person being photobombed, the photobomber or the photographer. The other challenge with the sign I presented is the fact that it involves too many moving parts at the same time, a violation of the grammatical rules of ASL. This is an example of how the democratic Deaf community breathes life into signs. My point is this: the sign I presented during the shoot at Hopes&Fears is only the beginning of a dialogue of an actual sign. In time, there will be a wholly accepted sign for the word photobomb.

Everything’s always changing! It’s an exciting time.