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The Family Vocab

Christine Kim and Christopher Tester bring people together worldwide with their Instagram account The Family Vocab where users share signs in their own languages.


It started as a fun project between two American friends, Christine (based in Berlin) and Christopher (based in Edinburgh), to basically just crowdsource our respective network for words in sign language. At the time of creating the account, in the fall of 2019, Christine’s daughter was 2 years old and her language was blossoming in spoken German and American Sign Language (ASL). However, Christine would sometimes find herself wondering how to differentiate some animals like hyenas from dogs or wolves and foxes. Or how to avoid using English within ASL. Sometimes we would be lazy and fingerspell words in English. Like any language, ASL continues to grow and evolve.

We often would talk about different signs, how Christopher used them, compared with how Christine used some signs. There are plenty of variations, and it’s not like we know every ASL sign out there. And sometimes, we just didn’t like the original ASL signs. Since we both have different backgrounds and networks of friends, we started out by just asking friends how they would sign different vocabs. Christine thought, maybe it would be easier to do it through IG. Borrow the signs and share it with friends. It was such a simple premise. TFV has become something like an IG dictionary.

Now, with several thousand followers, we’ve come to realize that this is becoming bigger than either one of us anticipated. It truly is a brilliant way to engage with signers from all over the world and receive examples of signs in their sign languages. The internet brought us together. It has been a learning experience for us to try and facilitate the account as well as archiving our creation. We experimented with colors and Christine’s handwritten words, visuals. Additionally, we try to strike a balance between recognizing the origin of the word and associate it with the language of the origin and proactively seek out non-western sources. Like Kimono, we reached out to our Deaf friends in Japan for the sign in Japanese Sign Language (JSL). However, there were

”We do hope that this account reinforces the beauty of different
sign languages and value in exchanging words and ideas.”

Christine Kim and Christopher Tester

times when we chose a sign that was easier to remember or something we can easily incorporate into our vocabulary, like mango. It is not native to France and yet we are using French Sign Language (LSF) for it. Some of the suggestions we received already have a different meaning within ASL and so we seek alternatives, such as the sign for Lego.

As our platform increases, what we have started to see is a shift in how Deaf followers are debating about the sign itself and offering alternatives or agreement. We will always be open to changing or adding new signs for the same word we have previously posted. We think this is becoming a place where we can share some obscure words, art, fashion, brands and food, and share them with everyone. We do hope that this account reinforces the beauty of different sign languages and value in exchanging words and ideas. However, the TFV is also deeply personal, it is for the family to use and ensure that we are current with the language while it continues to evolve and grow. We plan to organize the words into groupings to make it easier to find the words. Also, Christine’s favorite word on TFV is tofu (China) and Ikea (Sweden). Christopher’s favorite is psychedelic (Germany) and avant-garde (France).

Please share your adventures with us at share@juniperunltd.com
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