Posted by: learnsignlanguage | April 21, 2010


  Finger spelling in British Sign Language

The manual alphabet is used in sign languages, mostly for proper names and technical or specialised vocabulary. The use of fingerspelling was once taken as evidence that sign languages are simplified versions of oral languages, but in fact it is merely one tool among many. Fingerspelling is often used when there is no sign available or if the person does not remember the sign. Most manual alphabets use a unique hand sign to represent individual letters, distinguished by handshape and palm orientation, and sometimes movement, location and mouth patterns. The handshapes are often based on stylised representations of the shapes of the letters as they are written, but may be arbitrary signs, or a combination of iconic and arbitrary signs.

The speed and clarity of fingerspelling also varies between different signing communities. Generally speaking you tend to find that older Deaf people use more fingerspelling than younger deaf people which is often connected to their educational upbringing.

When people who are fluent in sign language read fingerspelling, they do not usually look at the signer’s hand(s), but maintain eye contact and look at the face of the signer as is normal for sign language. People who are learning fingerspelling often find it impossible to understand it using just their peripheral vision and must look directly at the hand of someone who is fingerspelling. Please get used to looking directly at the persons face and lip pattern and you will gradually find it easier to understand.  

Normally one of the first lessons that students learn is the fingerspelling alphabet.

Take a look now at how to sign the British Sign Language alphabet here


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