What does "lexicalized fingerspelling" mean?
Easy definition: Lexicalized fingerspelling is fingerspelling that looks like a sign.
In ASL books a "lexicalized fingerspelled sign" is indicated by the symbol # preceding the sign.
For example: #BUSY
The # symbol before the sign BUSY means you would use the fingerspelled version of "busy" that has been mutated to the extent
that it looks like a sign rather than just fingerspelling.
A student asks: "When we see #busy, do we sign the # sign and then the word busy?"
No. The # character is simply a way to indicate on paper or on the screen that a concept is a
"lexicalized fingerspelled word." Lexicalization means that the manner of
spelling is different from normal spelling. A lexicalized spelled concept will
actually look more like a sign than fingerspelling.
For example: #WHAT is actually spelled palm facing up/back, hand moving
downward/ forward, changing from a "W" into a "T." (You drop the H and the
The word "Lexical" means "having the characteristics of a lexeme." A lexeme is the fundamental unit of the lexicon of a
So what does that mean? Let me give you an example: the word "spell" is a lexeme. "Spells, spelled, and
spelling" are all forms of the English lexeme "spell."
The "lexicon of a language is its "vocabulary." So "lexicon" is another word for "vocabulary."
So, you can think of it this way:
"Lexeme" basically means "word."
"Lexicon" basically means "vocabulary."
"Lexical" basically means "word-like" or "like a word."
In our case, it means, "like a sign," or more specifically, "done in such a way as to have the characteristics of a sign."
In a message dated 1/10/2007 9:24:05 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Could you please distinguish for me the difference between a loan
sign and a lexicalized fingerspelled word?
Sharon Loveall, M.A.
In the old days we used to call fingerspelling that looked like a sign
Then later we stopped calling such fingerspelling "loan" signs and
started calling such fingerspelling "lexicalized fingerspelling." Which
means, "spelling that has taken on the characteristic of a lexeme."
Lexeme is a fancy word that basically means "word" (or in our case, "a
sign.") Thus lexicalize fingerspelling is a fingerspelled concept that
looks and functions more like a sign than like fingerspelling.
Then we started calling signs that we borrowed from other signed
languages, "loan signs."
So, think of signs borrowed from fingerspelling as being "lexicalized
Think of signs borrowed from other sign languages as being "loan signs."
Some fingerspelled concepts in ASL have mutated over the years. Over
time they have changed to look more like individual signs and less like
strings of fingerspelled letters. For example, here are a few
concepts that are commonly "fingerspelled" but no longer look like normal
fingerspelling because they have mutated in some way.
term "lexicalized" means to have become like a word (or sign).
I'm looking for the sign for CHIMPANZEE. Consider this is for
children who know the difference between a monkey, chimp, gorilla
and orang, but aren't old enough to fingerspell. Can you help?>
Dear Mimi (Melinda)
In American Sign Language there are no widely or consistently used
signs to distinguish the "variations" of primates.
There are only two "popular" or "common" signs used for referring to
primates. The MONKEY sign, and the APE sign.
The MONKEY sign is used to represent the smaller primates and the
APE sign represents apes and gorillas.
The MONKEY sign scratches your sides upwards with both hands
simultaneously and repeats the motion once.
The APE sign beats on your chest using alternating hands (in a fist
Note: You don't actually have to make contact with your sides or
chest for either of the two signs. If you are hamming it up or being
theatrical you will use bigger movements and more contact.
I would suggest to you that "Hearing adults" tend to underestimate
the ability of children to fingerspell and to read fingerspelling.
Many people approach fingerspelling as a series of letters on the
hand. Children that grow up in signing households tend to handle
fingerspelling as "signs" that have a general flow and shape
pattern. At age 2, my daughter, Kesley, used to morph the letters V,
I, and T together to express the concept of "vitamin."
Thus if you spell words like "chimp" often enough using fluent
fingerspelling, the kids will pick up on what it means and will
start doing their own "version" of fingerspelling that perhaps looks
like the letters C and P. You would spell ORANG to mean orangutan.
And eventually it would start looking like ORG then even "OG." This
is known as "lexicalized
Now, since I realize that you probably "still" want specific signs
for primates (even though I've told you how it would be handled in a
culturally appropriate way), I'll suggest to you the group of people
that I would consider to be experts in the various signs for
primates: The Gorilla Foundation.
I will cc this to them at firstname.lastname@example.org and also to their "kid
question email service: email@example.com and see if they know of any
signs for "chimp" vs "orangutan."
Or, for faster service, pick up the phone and call 1-800-ME-GO-APE
(seriously, that is the number listed at their website). Or mail
them at: The Gorilla Foundation, P.O. Box 620530, Woodside, CA 94062
March 19, 2003
In the field of Deaf Education, many deaf education
teachers and hearing parents of deaf children try to avoid “fingerspelling”
and of course, deaf or hard of hearing children are having difficulty
reading. Lexidactylophobia is what Donald A. Grushkin (1998)
describes in the deaf education field. Phobia in psychology means irrational
fear or dread of a particular phenomenon or situation. Donald explained lexi in Greek means word and
dactyl means finger. Many deaf
educators are lexidactylophobia in classrooms. They have a negative attitude
of using fingerspelling.
What do we know about
lexicalized fingerspelling? “ASL creates new signs in a third way –
representing the symbols of written English with ASL signs.” (Lucas & Valli,
2000) We see a lot of deaf communities’ fingerspell in their daily
conversations. It represents words ideographically. Chinese Sign Language
used written Chinese and syllabically system while Danish Sign Language used
‘mouth-hand” systems as well alphabetically are the examples of
fingespelling. Robbin Battison, ASL linguist did on first research on
fingerspelling in ASL. Lexicalized fingerspellings are signs and free
morpheme. ASL researchers used # to mark the sign as their fingerspelling
symbol for written purpose. In fingerspelling, there are 8 of the changes
that are part of process in the lexicalization process and it was described
by Robbin Battison. (1978).
Some of the signs may
be deleted is one of the ‘changes’ process. For example, we fingerspell
#YES, we delete “E” and sign “Y” and “S” While signing #YES, there are 2
handshapes in sequence. We can fingerspell with more than 3 or 4 handshapes
in sequence, here are the examples of using more than 3 or 4 handsapes,
#BACK, #RARE, #SURE, #WHAT, and #EARLY. (Lucas & Valli, 2000) The
location and handshape may change. Also movement may be added and
their orientation may change, too. You may see a sign that is
repeatedly, #HA is an example. It’s called reduplication of the movement.
Using second hand may be added, too. We sign #BACK to express more
emphasis. Lastly of 8 changes during fingerspelling is grammatical
information may be included. Using this process, it refers us to people
As early as 6 months
old, a deaf child attempts to sign such as babbling. (Bonvillian & Richards,
1993). Hearing babies babble all the time. It’s the same way deaf babies or
-small children who are exposed on signing babbles through moving their
fingers or hands. They imitate fingerspelling through wiggles of the fingers
same as hearing children will play with letters in written.
Children fingerspell as
they practice and it helps develop their everyday life with their language
use and how they write on a paper. (Padden, 1990) Futher, Gates, and Chase,
(1976) found that children who are deaf showed their spelling ability was
greater than hearing children because of visual recognizing the word and use
fingerspell. Deaf educators must realize it’s important to realize they must
teach deaf children to recognize the link between fingerspelling and written
language. (Grushkin, 1998) By doing that, their language boosts up and they
can be comfortable in reading and understanding.
Teachers of the Deaf
need to realize it’s important not to avoid fingerspelling approach to
support the literacy and vocabulary in deaf children’s language develop.
They should be able to express and receptive skills. They also should know
when and how to use fingerspelling. They need to be aware of the important
of using lexicaled fingerspelling approach and how this will benefit
children from elementary to high school level. (Grushkin, 1998)
Grushkin, Donald (1998). Lexidactylophobia: The
(Irrational) Fear of Fingerspelling American Annals of the Deaf,
Valli, C., & Lucas, C. (2002).
American Sign Language: Lexicalized Fingerspelling & Loan Signs. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press
Battison, R. (1978). Lexical borrowing in American
Sign Language. Silver Spring, MD. Linstok Press.
Gates, A. I. & Chase, E.H.(1976) Methods and
theories of learning to spell test by studies of deaf children.. Visible
Padden, C.A. (1990) Deaf Children and Literacy:
Literacy Lessons. (ERIC Documentation Reproduction Service No ED 321
In a message dated 8/28/2003 11:01:26 AM Pacific Daylight Time, a student
What is the world's best video series for Fingerspelling receptive practice?
DVD would be terrific, because I can slow that down as necessary to decipher
You name it, I'll jump on it.
As far as videos go...I recommend "Groode, J. L., Holcomb, T., & Dawn Sign
Press. (1992). Fingerspelling, expressive & receptive fluency a video guide.
San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press" for beginners. But since you are
not a beginner I'd recommend you get a little fingerspelling book
(I think it is titled "Expressive and Receptive Fingerspelling for Hearing
Adults" or something like that) and use it to make your own practice video
by spelling words to a camcorder while voicing what your are spelling. Then
later (a day or two) watch the video with the sound off and see how you do.
You can use it as a written test if you'd like, and then play it back with
the sound on to check your answers.
Or you can use the practice sheets from my fingerspelling pages to make a
I just looked up the title of that book. It is:
Guillory, LaVara M.: Expressive and receptive fingerspelling for
hearing adults. Baton Rouge : Claitor´s Publ. 1988 - 42 p.: Paperback
Note, some highbrows (or monobrows?) may take exception to this book.
It is not in vogue. But I personally feel it presents a very
intelligent and effective approach to fingerspelling success for Hearing adult ASL-as-a-second-language learners.
In a message dated 2/22/2005 8:50:46 AM Pacific Daylight Time, firstname.lastname@example.org
I just found your site and I am excited to be able to
use it. I am currently enrolled in class and will soon graduate. I am taking
a class in ASL linguistics and have had the following question posed to me
for homework. When do you use the Lexicalized sign or the ASL sign for the
following words? #BUSY BUSY, #CAR , #BED, BED.
When would you use one over the other? When would your fingerspell #BUSY
instead of using the BUSY? etc..
In a message dated 2/22/2005 12:05:28 PM Pacific Daylight Time, BillVicars
Good question. And did your teacher assign me as the person to
contact to do your homework for you or did he mention a textbook where you
could find that information?
Please don't be offended by what I just said. But seriously, what
resource has he provided to you to find the answer?
Here's "one" example of when I'd use a lexicalized fingerspelled sign over
the regular sign:
* If I'm holding a sandwich in one hand.
A general note: Lexicalization of fingerspelling is a process that happens
over time. Some words are fully lexicalized but many words are not yet
"fully lexicalized." It is going to vary from user to user.
If you DO find a clear, well described set of "rules" for when to and not to
use lexicalized fingerspelling I'd LOVE to see it.
In a message dated 2/22/2005 12:21:54 PM Pacific Daylight Time, email@example.com
No, no textbook type research. We are just supposed to ask people who are
deaf, Coda's or interpreter's what they do and then write a one page essay
on it. I just chose you because I happened on your web site and I was
impressed that you might have a different perspective. So any more words of
wisdom? I would really appreciate your response.
Ah, I see.
Allow me to point out that there is a difference between lexicalized
fingerspelling and "fingerspelled words." As time goes on I
will be reviewing my website and pointing out that it would be best
if we were to use the # sign in front of lexicalized concepts and
use dashes between the letters of fingerspelled concepts.
Anyway, here are a few more situations for lexicalization and/or to spell
something instead of using a typical sign:
1. To emphasize a point.
2. To make a comparison (spell on different hands)
3. To incorporate directionality (establish verb agreement): Example: GIVE
#BACK-(to a specific person.) The sign moves in a specific direction.
4. To save effort. It is faster to spell C-A-R than to sign CAR. It is
faster and easier to spell D-A-Y than to sign DAY.
5. Older signers who learned ASL before the introduction of various signed
concepts. These individuals sometimes continue to fingerspell such concepts instead of
adopting the new signs.
6. To allow for one handed signing while driving, eating, or similar
7. To resist changes to your language that you are not comfortable
with. For example, using the lexicalized form of "email" (The
letters "E-M-I-L" (starting with an "e" and then using partially
formed/overlapping "m/a/i" letters and ending with a strong L or a
deformed ILY handshape) -- moving toward the person receiving the email) rather than
adopting the sign "EMAIL."
8. When the semantic range of the sign doesn't extend to the
concept to which you are referring. For example the sign BED as used
in ASL generally only refers to the thing that you sleep on. So to
sign FLOWER-BED would be a mistake. Instead you would sign
FLOWER and spell B-E-D.
In a message dated 2/22/2005 1:11:26 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
ANything specific on those three words? #CAR #BUSY #BED? For
example, you would not sign BED when talking about the bed of a pick
up truck or a flower bed. It was suggested to me that your would
#BUSY when talking about the photo copier being busy, or the phone
line was busy. and BUSY would be more for a person being busy.
What so you think?
Yeah...I know what you are talking about. It has to do with semantics.
Certain signs have a specific meaning and can't be used to mean other
things. For example, the sign "BED" (flat hand against side of head)
refers to the thing you sleep in. The sign BED would not be appropriate
if you were talking about a truck bed or a flower bed.
You'd fingerspell B-E-D in those circumstances.
Phones are B-U-S-Y (fingerspelled) not BUSY (signed). Also there is a
difference between #BUSY (lexicalized sign) and B-U-S-Y (fingerspelled
sign). I just interviewed three Deaf co-workers (capital D) and they
all used #BUSY to mean "very busy" and B-U-S-Y to indicate a busy dial
Below is as list of words that you commonly see fingerspelled in the
Deaf community and also lexicalized fingerspelling.
Note there is a difference between lexicalized fingerspelling and
"words that are commonly fingerspelled."
Later I will go through this list and separate out the lexicalized
words from the merely "commonly fingerspelled" words. A third
distinction will be "abbreviated" words.
Note to people who "copy this list" -- please include a link to
Lifeprint.com if posting to an online site, and or a reference it
using in print material. --Thanks.
ABT (about as in WH question
facial expression "what are you talking about?")
AC (air conditioning)
BA (bachelor of arts degree)
BACK (area, direction or status)
BEACH (modified letters)
BILLS (as in debts to pay)
BUS (what you ride on)
BUSY (person or phone)
CAR (the "R" ends up pointing more forward than up)
CC (close captioned, or cross country)
CLUB (often drops the letter "U")
CODA (child of deaf adult)
CS ("common sense" off corner of forehead)
DO (done with the palms up, "on its back")
DOG (looks like you are snapping your fingers)
DPN (Deaf President Now)
Dr. (courtesy title)
DS (drug store)
EARLY (moves in a circle--up, right, down, left)
F___-(the "F" word)
GO (uses a flip/twist of the wrist, "wide-G" closes the index and
GRAND (as in grand-children)
GUIDE (as in "TV Guide")
HA (done upside-down and repeated to mean, "ha, ha, ha" sarcastic)
HC (handicapped or homecoming)
HH (hard of hearing)
HS (high school)
IBM (International Business Machines)
ICU (Intensive Care Unit)
IF (done either forcefully, or with a fluttering motion of the
middle and ring fingers)
JOB (twists and omits the "O"
KO (knock out)
MA (masters degree)
Months of the year.
Mrs. (as in "Mrs." Jones)
NAD National Association of the Deaf
NG (no good)
NO (directional version)
NO (straightened index and middle fingers raised and lowered onto
pad of thumb)
NYOB ("Not your business" -- also look for "NYB," moved forward
slightly toward the other person)
NYOB ("Not your business")
OIC (humorous form of "Oh-I-see")
OR (as in this "or" that)
OT (over time)
Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy degree)
PO (post office)
POACH (as in eggs)
PORCH (outside your front door)
PROM (as in the dance)
RID (Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf)
SEC (sixty seconds in a minute)
SO (upside down version)
SOON (cheek version)
TB (too bad, forward motion)
TDD (Telecommunication Device for the Deaf)
TELLER (person who works at a bank)
THAI (as in food)
TL (that's life and/or tough luck)
WHAT (often omits the "H" and the "A," moves forward and down, ends
WHEN (often omits the "H" and the "N," starts palm up, "turns over"
or just moves forward and down)
WOW (tips of "W" fingers briefly drop down to touch the tips of the
pinkie and thumb before resuming the "W" shape again)
YES (starts palm down with bent wrist, moves to palm forward
straight wrist, sometimes moves forward, often omits the "E")AA
(associate of arts degree)
WARNING: "Jargon Alert"
Bill Vicars writes:
According to Websters, the word "lexical" means "of or relating
to words or the vocabulary of a language as distinguished from
its grammar and construction."
Thus, "all" ASL signs are "lexical" in the sense that they are
the words and vocabulary of American Sign Language.
When referring to fingerspelling that has taken on the
characteristics of a "sign" we use the term "lexicalized
I believe that we should take care to type in full (or cut and
paste) the terms "lexicalized fingerspelling" and/or
"lexicalized fingerspelled words" each
time we want to
refer to fingerspelling which has taken on the characteristics
of a sign.
At this time I recommend that we not
use the shorter
term "lexicals" to refer to such fingerspelling (even though it
seems like such a cool and convenient way to abbreviate
IF time passes and the term "lexicals" starts showing up in the
"literature" in reference to "lexicalized fingerspelling" then I
think we could make the switch and use the shorter term. But
for now the term "lexicals" may be confusing if applied only to
"lexicalized fingerspelling" since "lexicals" could refer to
"word-like" item. For example certain facial
expressions and mouth morphemes are getting to the point where
they may be considered lexicals. (Arguments could be made in
favor of such items as "cha" and "pah" which are starting to
show up independent of the hand movements to which they have
been traditionally linked.) Note: I don't expect casual
readers to understand what I mean by "cha" and/or "pah" this
particular discussion is intended for professionals in the