Tutorial 2: Writing Simple Signs

After the arm configuration, we write the handshape. Basic handshapes (from which we can easily create many more, as we shall see) are:This means that the handshape is written in Hippotext by writing the letter. So if we write jnnoa, we’re indicating that the palm, fingers, forearm and upper arm are directed inwards, upwards, upwards and forwards respectively and that the handshape is the fist (all fingers and thumb tucked in).

This isn’t usually enough to write a meaningful sign. Having written everything about the hand, we then need to add a movement of some sort. Take the BSL sign for THANK-YOU, for instance. This could be described as, ‘Flat hand, finger pads touch the chin, hand moves forward.’ To write this, we’ll need to know how to write parts of the hand (for the finger pads) and parts of the head (for the chin). We use the following letters:

and to clarify:

  • Hand Parts
    b finger pads
    d palm
    f fingertips
    h wrist
    k back of hand
    l blade of hand
    t thumb side of hand
  • Head Parts
    a ear
    e eye
    c cheek
    m mouth
    n brow or temple
    s nose
    u chin
    w crown (top of head)
    z back of head

This is a lot of new letters to learn (there’s no need to learn them all at once: just print or draw the picture for reference), but some of them work as memory aids. For example, a looks a bit like an ear, e looks a bit like an eye, and so on. Notice, too, that the hand parts are all ‘tall’ letters. This is helpful for seeing the structure of a word when reading.

Now if we want to write the sign for THANK-YOU, we can go ahead and write bbuo. This means “flat hand (b), finger pads touch chin (bu), hand moves forward. Notice how after the hand is written, any direction letters written describe the direction in which the hand is moving.

You might be wondering where the hand/arm configuration went. Shouldn’t we write jnn at the beginning of the sign to say that the palm is pointing inwards, and the fingers and forearm upwards? In fact we don’t: touching the chin with the finger pads naturally brings the hand and arm into this position, so we don’t need to write that.

Try this exercise.

What would you say the BSL sign btn means? Write a description of how it is executed.

— Sandy Fleming

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