Sign language classifiers are used to show where someone or something is moving, where it is, and its appearance such as its size and shape. Sign language classifiers in ASL serve the same purpose as a pronoun in English language.
Words must be used first then the American Sign Language classifiers can be used to represent the words. Since American Sign Language is the most popularly used sign language, we will tackle sign language classifiers under the ASL.
There are a variety of American Sign Language classifiers many involving hand shapes that represent numbers and letters. Sign language classifiers are often represented as CL followed by a classifier such as, CL:F. One set of classifiers is the use of the numbers one to five and another set of classifiers uses letters such as A,B,C,F,G,ILY(Y), L, O, S, U & V.
American Sign Language classifiers are an integral part of learning sign language most especially for those who are training to interpreters for the deaf. The Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education is a resource widely accepted by the sign language community and has published a lot of articles related to American Sign Language classifiers.
In one of their research which they have featured as an article: The Acquisition of Spatial Constructions in American Sign Language and English, researchers examined learning of spatial relationships such as the concept of “front.”
The research has been conducted in concerning adults and children alike. All of which are American Sign Language users and English users. All people involved with the research were tested with pictures and sign language.
The results of the research show that children learn concepts like above and below a lot faster and easier because there is no need to picture mentally the actual location. However for concepts such as “front” and “behind” are much more difficult for them to learn because it involves perspective shifts.
This plus other words that require mental shift of perspective is found to be hard to learn and express for deaf people. This is where the sign language classifiers comes into place. With the help of the sign language classifiers, it is much easier for ASL, or other sign language users to understand and express what they intend to get across to the other person.