Basic Sign Language: A Resource for Educators
In spoken language, the speaker gives tone, inflection, and detail in the way their voice varies for differing reasons. In ASL, the way to do this is through facial expressions. Many signs can actually change their meaning depending upon the facial expressions associated with the desired meaning. See the video below for an example with the sign for “understand.”
Certainly, the point of the information can be altered when facial expressions are altered, or lacking entirely. We see this most notably in emotions and questions. If you were to say “my birthday is tomorrow, I’m very excited!” chances are that you would smile, your voice would change, and your audience would understand the emotion that you were talking about. Your facial expressions and body language would match with the excitement you were speaking of. Sign language relies on the portrayal of these emotions. Signing the same sentence would include excitement and dramatic facial expressions to convey excitement. If this were lacking, the audience would believe that you were not excited at all, and this would completely change the meaning of your sentence.
This is visible in the following video.