Diachronic research is, at times, akin to archaeology. The researcher must piece together bits of evidence with the goal of creating a complete picture of the phenomenon under investigation. Researchers studying a signed language face a more daunting task, due to the relative dearth of available data. The goal remains the same, however, and the insights gained regarding the origins of words can aid working interpreters in their construction of target texts. In this study, I explore the origins of commonly used legal terminology in present day American Sign Language (ASL) using some of the first French Sign Language dictionaries and early 20th century ASL films. Through the use of grammaticalization theory (Bybee, Perkins and Pagliuca 1994; Janzen 2012), I also offer some possible insights into how such terms emerged and evolved. Finally, I offer suggestions as to how legal interpreters could incorporate this knowledge into their work and how such an approach could guide interpreters as they analyze the lexicon and grammar of ASL.



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