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Humanities LibreTexts

8.1: Introduction

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  • Do you know studies show that the human brain can only retain about seven letters, words, or numbers at a time before it becomes overloaded and loses the entire string? Think about times when you tried retaining phone numbers and the challenges the nine digits presented. Our lack of retention for anything over seven letters is very important to keep in mind when practicing receptive fingerspelling because if there’s more than seven letters the likelihood of understanding goes down. There’s a technique that can be helpful, however, which brings us to our next Mindfulness Tip:

    Mindful Tip 12: Break fingerspelled words into syllables or chunks.

    Spelling phonetically aids comprehension so the word can be retained. For example, if I fingerspell H-Y-P-E-R-A-C-T-I-V-I-T-Y in thirteen individual, succinct letters it will be near impossible to catch, even for a Deaf person. But if I chunk it phonetically, by syllables: HY-PER-ACT-IV-ITY, it will be comprehended no problem. Why? Because letters are grouped in no more than three. Our brains then divide the word into five units versus thirteen letters.

    We consider phonetic fingerspelling a tool for our expressive skills as well, for it’s far easier to get rhythmic when we’re not stamping each individual letter, but rather, breaking the word into fluid parts. Spelling by syllables is extremely helpful for the signer and the person viewing the message and is a tool we utilize to ease comprehension on long words. We can practice phonetic fingerspelling with short words too, such as the Restricted Sets we’ve learned in this book. Here are a few examples:


    Our next Restricted Set 7: Body and Health is a very practical and concrete opportunity to practice and implement phonetic fingerspelling, for in real-world health situations we could be exposed to very lengthy medical terminology, where chunking becomes absolute necessity.

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