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Sign Language Alphabet, Syntax, Grammar, and Fingerspelling

By Heather Marie Kosur

Sign language, or more correctly sign languages, follow their own vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. Learn the fingerspelled alphabet for American Sign Language and British Sign Language as well as some other basic signs and linguistic information in the following article.

Sign Language Alphabet

The most important thing to understand when dealing communicating in sign language is that a signed language is not the translation of any given spoken language into finger and hand signals; instead, a sign language is an independent language that follows its own rules for vocabulary, syntax, and grammar. Although ASL (American Sign Language) and BSL (British Sign Language) are widespread, there are basically as many sign languages all over the world as there are spoken languages. The following are the signs for the fingerspelled alphabet from A to Z in ASL and BSL.

Fingerspelling Letters A to Z

American Sign Language: Fingerspelling AAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling BAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling CAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling DAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling EAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling FAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling GAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling HAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling IAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling JAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling KAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling LAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling MAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling NAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling OAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling PAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling QAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling RAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling SAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling TAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling UAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling VAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling WAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling XAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling YAmerican Sign Language: Fingerspelling Z

Linguistics of Sign Language

Vocabulary, syntax, and grammar are all components of the linguistics of any given language. The linguistics of sign language consists of fingerspelling, body and hand movements, and facial expressions. Fingerspelling means that a word is spelled out by the fingers letter by letter. Obviously, spelling out every word is a rather time consuming method, and, therefore, fingerspelling is only a part of sign language, which is used primarily to express names and certain technical terms.

Other linguistic components of sign language are body and hand movements and facial expressions, which occur in conjunction with the finger movements. Whereas emotions can be expressed in the spoken language by a change in tone of voice, facial expressions fulfill this task in sign language. Emotions like shouting, laughing, and crying are expressed by mimicry.

Like any other language, sign language has its own grammar rules. Whereas verbs in many language are conjugated, grammatical information such as tense and aspect are expressed in sign language in a very different way, which is discussed in more detail in "Grammar of American Sign Language." The same applies to syntax, which is the order of words in a sentence. Again, different rules apply to sign languages that to spoken languages.

Common Situations and Signs

As difficult as sign language may appear, there are many sets of signs which are internationally understood and a great help to communicate with the Deaf without profound knowledge of sign language. An example is the sign for telephone. The thumb and little finger are extended, the rest of the fingers is clenched, and the hand is moved to the ear to signal I am on the phone or I want to make a call. The sign is often accompanied by lip movements to indicate talking. Equally well understood is the dialing motion with the crooked index finger; although, in our modern times of touch phones, this sign may soon be outdated.

Eating or the wish to eat is signaled with making scooping motions with the hands toward the mouth, and drinking is signed by lifting an imaginary glass to the lips. Taking a shower is indicated by holding a hand over the head and making a circling motion. Bed or the wish to sleep is expressed by clawing a fist at the cheek.

I Love You It is also useful to know some signs for time. Tomorrow is expressed by the extended index finger touching the cheek and moving forward; yesterday is the same gesture but with the finger moving backward. Month is just the fingersign for M; week is the extended hand with the palm down with a finger of the other hand moving over the back of the hand.

And, finally, another widely-known sign is the sign for I love you, which is signed by holding the hand up with the palm forward and the middle and ring fingers bent

For more common signs in American Sign Language, try "ASL Numbers 0-10" or "ASL Colors."