Tutorial 6a: Numeracy and Fingerspelling

We’ll soon be talking about how to write purely sign language handshapes, but firstly, an aside about how we write numbers and fingerspelling in Hippotext.

In written texts, we can borrow words from other languages by simply writing them in the text, as they’re spelled in the foreign language. The writer usually puts the foreign word or phrase in italics (or underlines it, in handwriting):

It has a certain Je ne sais quoi, wouldn’t you say?

In Hippotext, we do exactly the same (don’t worry if you can’t read this just yet!):

Q31biqq 2fo Yeovil.

This means “I live in Yeovil”, and since I don’t know a sign for Yeovil, I’ve just written it in English. The implication is that if this were signed, the signer would resort to fingerspelling or similar oral devices to sign ‘Yeovil’.

Some signs have special fingerspelling patterns or use a handshape borrowed from the fingerspelling alphabet. In BSL, for example, ‘month’ is usully signed simply by fingerspelling the letter ‘m’. In Hippotext, we indicate a letter from the fingerspelling alphabet by writing the letter ‘d’ before it. So we can write month simply as ‘dm’.

If there is more than one fingerspelling letter, it’s best to capitalise the fingerspelled letters. This makes it possible to see where the fingerspelling ends, and fingerspelling is often used for abbreviations, which are often capitalised. So for mother, father, daughter in BSL we can write dMM, dFF, dDD. With capitalised fingerspelling it can be quite acceptable to drop the ‘d’, so writing MM, FF and DD.

Fingerspelled handshapes are often more usual in languages with one-handed fingerspelling, and may even follow paths in the air. One ASL sign for Florida, for example, is dFLAjuc (or FLAjuc if you’d rather drop the d), signing the letters FLA in a circular path.

When we write the letter ‘d’ followed by a number, this means that the handshape used is the handshape that represents that number. This can vary from dialect to dialect. In places like Somerset and Wales, for example, the number 7 is signed with the ring finger and pinkie extended, while from Dorset to London it’s signed with the thumb and index finger extended. Those are written as ‘d7’ no matter what your dialect.

So to write the sign for “seven years old”, we write d7bso (handshape for the number seven, fingerpads near nose, hand moves forwards) no matter which dialect we use. We can also extend this artificially and write d17bso or d45bso, no matter how these are actually signed in the writer’s or readers’ dialects.

Here’s an exercise. Remember that while ‘s’ represents the nose, ‘u’ represents the chin. How would you write £5 in BSL? How would you write £25? Having asked this, it’s also acceptable to use the ‘£’ and just write £5 or £25 in BSL!

— Sandy Fleming