Tutorial 4: How to Cheat (a little bit!)

In earlier tutorials we described three things we can use to define parts of signs:

  • the Hand (H), in which we write the hand/arm configuration followed by the handshape;
  • the Interaction (I), in which we write the hand part and the head or body part which it touches;
  • the Path (P), in which we write direction letters to describe a smoothly curving path through space.

There’s one more thing, which is the last thing we need to fully describe a one-handed sign. We call this ‘Other’ (or ‘O’, for short), because it can be used to write anything that is awkward or impossible to write with the other three things. So a full manual sign is made of four parts: Hand, Interaction, Path, Other. As always, we can write these using just their initial letter, and a typical ordering for these in a sign is HIPO… which is why I’ve called the writing system Hippotext!

As for other orderings, the Hand is always written first, the others can be written in whatever order is best for the sign. So HIPO, HIP, HI, HP, HPI, HOI and suchlike are all orderings you might find yourself using.

The Other elements are recognisable because they’re written as double letters. We have the following:

  • qq forearm twists repeatedly;
  • rr hand flaps repeatedly from the wrist;
  • vv stress (sign is executed with muscular stress).

Stress (vv) is a feature of sign languages which isn’t covered by the H, I or P elements, so we need an ‘Other’ way of writing it: ‘buvv MUST (two flat hands, stressed downwards movement).

For the other two, qq and rr, it takes four letters to write these using H, I and P, but more importantly, it takes a lot of thought to compose them correctly. Since these are both natural and easily-recognisable features of sign languages, we give them this special Other notation to make them easy to write and think about:

uarr YES (palm down, fist, hand flaps at the wrist);

uonaqq NO (palm down, fingers forward, forearm up, fist, forearm twists repeatedly).

Here’s an exercise. In BSL you might try to get the attention of someone away in front of you by stretching out your arm ahead of you with the palm down, and flapping your hand. You’d be using the w handshape, but with the thumb extended. Can you write this? Take your time and think carefully about each part of it.

We’ve now covered all the basics of writing one-handed signs in Hippotext. To complete our knowledge we will need to learn how to write two-handed signs, letters for body parts and how to create more handshapes from the basic ones we already know.

— Sandy Fleming

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