Tutorial 3: Hands Moving through Space

In the previous two tutorials we showed how to configure the hand and arm, and to specify a handshape for the sign. We also showed how to add an interaction between a part of the hand and the part of the face or head (but later we will extend this to the whole body). We call the hand/arm/handshape configuration the Hand (with a capital H). We call the hand part to body part diphthong an Interaction (with a capital I).

I’d like to stress that the Hand can only occur once in a one-handed sign. But the Interaction can occur as often as you want. An example of a BSL sign with two interactions is HEARING. This could be described as “First finger pad touches ear, then the thumbside taps against the mouth”. This is written as 1batmr, meaning HEARING. It’s a handshape followed by two interactions: 1 ba tmr. When we write the letter r after something, it means that it’s repeated. So tm (thumb side of hand touches mouth) is repeated, causing it to tap against the mouth.

Once the hand has been written, we can use direction letters again, but now they will mean the direction in which the hand moves through space (downwards, upwards, forwards, backwards, outwards, inwards). We call this the Path, with a capital P. Consider the BSL sign for CLAIM, which could be described as “palm backwards, fingers and forearm upwards, flat hand moves forwards and downwards”. So this can be written snnbou.

Notice that when we use more than one direction letter together in the Path, they blend into a smooth curve. The hand orientation doesn’t stay fixed, it follows the curve:

It’s very usual to see signs which have an interaction followed by a forwards path:

SEE 1beo (1 be o: the index finger pad is near the eye and moves forwards)
SAY 1bmo (1 bm o: the index finger pad is near the mouth and moves forwards)

Signs like these are directional and so might be written with other directions than straight forwards, some directions being diagonal. We will see later how to write diagonal directions.

We might also see the opposite:

SEE-ME 1sbe (1 s be: the index finger pad moves backwards to near the eye)
SAY-TO-ME 1sbm (1 s bm: the index finger pad moves backwards to the mouth)

We’ve covered quite a lot of ground in those three short tutorials. Most of what we write in sign uses only the Hand, Interaction and Path, and even facial expression and body language use the same letters in only a slightly different way. In subsequent tutorials, we’ll keep refining and extending these principles until we can write all the signs we need.

As an exercise, try reading the following signs and writing their description (for the purposes of this exercise, it doesn’t matter if you know BSL or if you understand the meaning of the sign, just try to see how it’s executed): bde, adur, J1tn (hints: the first letter or numeral that isn’t a direction letter will be the handshape; remember that the letter r after something means the thing is repeated).

Can you write the BSL sign for EASY in Hippotext (index fingertip taps against cheek)?

— Sandy Fleming

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