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Sign language words & phrases: British and American signs

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´´Sign language is for everyone.´´

(Kathy Clark, Children´s author)

´´I try to talk to everybody. If you can´t speak English, I´m going to do sign language.´´

(Helen Wilson, former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals)

I Love You in Sign Language

I Love You in Sign Language

One out of every thousand babies born to this world has a hearing disability. Born with a severe hearing loss, the child cannot understand speech, even with the use of a hearing aid. It may be a child you know. It may be your or your child´s best friend tomorrow.

Every community or linguistic population comprises Deaf members or deaf people who develop sign languages.

Sign language

Each spoken language has its counterpart: a sign language.  Currently, there are about a 100 sign languages in the world. Some are legally recognized and some have no status. Linguists who have studied these languages claim that sign languages have all the required linguistic components, just as any other true language. Sign languages have a complex spatial grammar that differs from the grammar of any spoken language. They are visual languages with its own grammatical rules and semantics. For example, BSL (British Sign Language) and ASL (American Sign Language) totally differ one from another. They are unintelligible, even though British and American hearing people share the same oral language.

American Sign Language

ASL, the fourth most commonly used language in the United States,is developed notably based on the remarkableMartha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), once widely used on the island of Martha's Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts, U.S. (early 18th century – 1952). Both, deaf and hearing people in the community used it; consequently, the loss of hearing or deafness never became a barrier to participation in public life. Nowadays, many public schools and universities offer courses, recognizing American Sign Language as a modern “foreign” language.

American Sign Language Book

ASL - American Sign Language

ASL - American Sign Language

British Sign Language Book

ISL (International Sign Language) is based on the one-handed systems used in Europe and America. These complex languages are rich and capable of expressing intentions, feelings and thoughts, just like any other language. Signs are often arbitrary, sometimes without a visual relationship to their referent. Signs used in these languages are not mime and they don´t depend on oral languages. Sign languages were not invented by hearing people, but by those who used gestures, hand signals, body talk and facial expressions to ´´say´´ what they meant.

What is HOLME?

HOLME comprises all the elements of a sign:

Handshape (Handform),

Orientation (Palm Orientation),

Location (Place of Articulation),

Movement, and

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Expression (Facial expressions/Non-manual markers).

American Sign Language Alphabet Video


Fingerspelling is another important term in relation to sign languages, used in deaf communities and education. It is the representation of the letters of a writing and/or numeral system, by use of hands only. These systems are called finger alphabets (manual or hand alphabets). Manual or finger alphabets have two major forms:

One-handed system. It was first described by Spanish monks and adopted by the Abbé de l'Épée's deaf school (Paris, the 18th century). From there it spread to deaf communities around the world (in the 19th and 20th centuries). ISL (International Sign Language) is based on a one-handed system for representing the Roman alphabet, and it is used at international meetings (such as WFD – World Federation of the Deaf, or events like Deaflympics). Manual representations of non-Roman scripts (such as Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Greek, Hebrew) are partially based on the one-handed Latin alphabet.


Two-handed system. It differs from the one-handed system in that the vowels are represented by iconic signs (in former Yugoslavia and Turkey) or pointing to the fingertips (BANZSL group of sign languages: British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language).

Arabic, Ethiopian and Korean (syllabary) manual alphabets use handshapes, usually iconic representations of the characters in the writing system.


E.g. I want to drink coffee.

I in Sign Language: point to self, mid chest.

Want in Sign Language: extend both hands forward, palms up. Move both open curved hands toward the chest several times, as if drawing in the desired object.

Drink in Sign Language: hold your hand in a “C” curve, pull it up toward your mouth and tip it as if drinking from a glass.

Coffee in Sign Language : move your hands as if you were making coffee on an old coffee grinder (the left hand stays still while the right hand turns the crank).

Thank you in Sign Language: put the fingertips of your right hand in flat poition close to your mouth and then move your hand forward and a bit down in the direction of the person you are thanking and smile.

A type of exercises in learning Sign Language

A type of exercises in learning Sign Language

If you would like to share your experience related to sign languages, leave a  comment, please. If you liked the hub, don´t forget to rate it and share it with your friends!


Paul on December 22, 2016:

What is the meaning of this sign

When I make the y one handed sign and touch my forehead

Thank you

archana on February 24, 2014:

i got very useful details

Armando Estrada on April 17, 2011:

Excellent post. Gradual Hearing Loss is no laughing matter as thousands of our fellow humans experience some level of hearing loss regularly. Thanks for raising awareness.

Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on September 01, 2010:

Great hub-- it expanded my rather meager knowledge of the subject. It made me recall a time when I was in charge of an after-school detention room for (minor) classroom offenders. The rule was-- 'complete silence:, but a couple of the detainees realized there was an ASL chart in the room and they began "texting" each other.

I figured this was technically against the rules, too-- but since it was an educational experience, I pretended not to notice.

Jennifer Bates from West Palm Beach on June 25, 2010:

Great information on sign language! Thank you for sharing.

Rose Kolowinski on May 23, 2010:

You hubs are always filled with great information! Sign language is good to learn but like any language, it isn't retained if you have no occasion to use it. Though I think it comes back quickly when you pick it up again. Thank you for a useful hub!

Jasmine (author) on May 06, 2010:

I am glad you like it prettydarkhorse! I am learning it by myself and practising a little. You never know when you might need to use it :-)

prettydarkhorse from US on May 06, 2010:

good hub and full of information which everybody can use, I like the chart of the symbols of letters which you posted here, Take care, Maita

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