Glossing system used for technical signs

David Bar-Tzur

Created 5/24/1999

Key to abbreviations and symbols (Cokely-Baker2 & Bar-Tzur)

sign is swept to the right, as if performing the action for everyone (on everything) at the same time
alternating, that is executed by DH, then NDH, then DH, as in PEOPLE
hands behave like the opposite of a mirror image, as in WIND
[As]3As handshape illustrated
the A handshape but the thumb is tucked against the index finger
away from signer, as in "PO away"
[B]3B handshape illustrated
the B handshape but the thumb is not tucked into the palm, as in SCHOOL
[B^]1B^ handshape illustrated
the handshape is modified so that fingers are held at 90º angle to palm, as in EQUAL as illustrated with one hand in this entry
[Bb^] or [B||]
is the handshape for MEETING when it is halfway closed
[Bb]1Bb handshape illustrated
the B handshape with the thumb tucked into the palm as in TROUBLE or WORRY
the C handshape with only the thumb and index fingers extended and curled, called "baby C", as in the DH of WORD.
[bO]3bO handshape illustrated
the O handshape with only the thumb and index fingers extended and curled, called "baby O", as in EXACT
thumb is placed over the middle joint of [X] as in some variants of CONTROL (as if holding onto the reins)
counterclockwise (as seen from above or from DS) as in WE. Note that this is for the signer who is right-handed. CCW for the left-handed will become CW and vice versa. I devised a handedness-neutral notation, but it is too complicated and therefore confusing.
clockwise (as seen from above or from DS) as in THEREABOUTS/APPROXIMATELY. Note that this is for the signer who is right-handed. CW for the left-handed will become CCW and vice versa. I devised a handedness-neutral notation, but it is too complicated and therefore confusing.
fingertips of dominant hand
dominant hand
dorsal side
not the palm side, but the other side of the hand
dominant palm orientation
dominant side (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed)
sign is repeated while moving towards the dominant side
flick index finger1initial position of [flick index finger] handshape illustratedfinal position of [flick index finger] handshape illustrated
The second picture has the PO wrong, but you get the idea; as in UNDERSTAND
fingertip orientation (if fingers were extended), so that EQUAL might be mistaken as FOs ><, but linguists would call the FO up
The honorific index points to things with the FT of [B] with its palm upturned.
[horns]1[horns] handshape illustrated
handshape where the index and pinky fingers are extended, as in MOCK
a sudden intake of air with rounded lips as in CRAZY-FOR/WOW
thumb, index and pinkie finger extended, as in I-LOVE-YOU
thumb, index, middle finger and pinkie finger extended, and index and middle fingers crossed, as in SPACE-SHUTTLE
sign this with NDH
lips are pouted to show regularity
non-dominant palm orientation
fingertips of non-dominant hand
non-dominant hand
non-dominant side
[open 8]
the handshape for the sign FEEL
"over time"
sign is repeated with circular motion to show action happens over a long time period, at least psychologically
palm orientation
possessive, that is, [B], PO towards whatever is being referenced
hand is twisted so that PO is down or away from the signer, as in lying prone before the emperor
(2h)L, PO away, FO up, touch like FTs and separate while closing to (2h)bO to trace out a rectangle in air
"step by step"
sign is executed slowy in several small steps, as in PROCESS
hand is twisted so that PO is up or towards the signer, as in COMPLETE; think of SuPINate as being on the SPINe.
hands behave as in a mirror image, as in the sign SEPARATE
the tongue sticks out slightly while the mouth forms the phoneme "th", showing carelessness or inattentiveness to detail or rightness
stands for "tight lips" which shows seriousness or effort
[V:]1V: handshape illustrated
the colon means curl the fingertips of the handshape, as in BLIND
wiggle fingers, as in STUDY, not as in FIVE-HUNDRED
air is blown out of rounded lips as in the sign HAVE-NONE
a letter or number inside brackets indicates a handshape
[X dot]
the handshape is modified by extending thumb, as in the [A dot] of REFUSE
first handshape is for NDH, second is for DH, as in "leak from hole": F,4-CL
first handshape becomes second handshape as in "disappear into the distance": G>bO-CL
teeth are clenched
one hand is used instead of the usual two-handed sign
the index finger traces (outlines) the shape of an object, as in ELLIPSE, which could be glossed as 1-CL'ellipse'.
1x, 2x, 3x
once, twice, three times (sometimes notated x1, x2, x3); used instead of "+" when sign is usually produced twice, but now once (or vice versa), or in descriptions that do not use the gloss, so there is no sign to add "+" to
both hands have the same handshape or the usual one-handed sign is produced with both hands
[5:]15: handshape illustrated
the colon means curl the fingertips of the handshape
[5^]35^ handshape illustrated
the carot (^) means bend the fingers at the knuckles, but keep them straight as in the final position of SUNSHINE
The fingertips are curles as in [5:] for ANGRY
at, as in SURGERY@brain for "brain surgery"
lexicalized fingerspelling (previously called fingerspelled loan sign), as in #OK for OKAY.
sign is executed with short forceful movement, as in MAD* to show that someone is "furious"
towards, as in "> DS"
face each other, as in POs ><, which is the case for the sign MEET
the handshape is modified so that fingers are held at 90 angle to palm, as in the (2h)[B^] of EQUAL
The two signs are blended together smoothly
(<) GLOSS1, (>) GLOSS2
sway body to NDS and sign GLOSS1, then sway body to DS and sign GLOSS2

Glossing techniques (Cokely-Baker, Bar-Tzur)

  1. Each sign is represented by an English word or phrase in all capital letters and may be in bold: ME SPEAK HEBREW CAN.
  2. Initialized signs are indicated by the substituted handshape, a dash, and the base sign: A-CALCULATE for "algebra".
  3. Fingerspelled vocabulary is indicated by bolded upper case letters separated by dashes: P-H-A-S-E for "phase". A single fingerspelled letter is enclosed in quotes: "E".
  4. Signs that are generated by repetition of base signs, are indicated with a plus sign. HELP++ for "helpful".
  5. Signs that are blends of other signs can be represented by a tilda (~) TRUE~WORK for "actually".
  6. If a sign uses parts of the body as a direct object, the sign is followed by an at symbol (@) and the body part described in lowercase letters: HURT@(left hip) for "my left hip hurts".
  7. If spatialization and directionality are used, "lf"," rt", "ctr" can be used for "left", "right", and "center".

More detailed description (Bar-Tzur)

  1. For signs that can not be related to signs that have a standard gloss, a more complex system is used.
  2. If the sign is two-handed and the handshapes are the same, (2h) is used and then the handshape is enclosed in square brackets. (2h)[F] would be the handshapes for the sign JUDGE.
  3. If two-handed, but the handshapes are different, DH (dominant hand) is used, indicating the handshape, later listing NDH (non-dominant hand). NDH may be omitted since the other handshape must now be on the NDH. For POPULAR, the handshapes would be NDH [1] and DH [5].
  4. Palm orientations are specified: PO up, PO down, PO > NDS (non-dominant side), PO > DS (dominant side), PO towards (towards signer), PO away (away from signer), POs >< (palms face each other). Here are the POs for some more signs: STOP (NDPO up, DPO > DS), WARN (both hands PO down), MEET (POs ><), EMERGENCY (PO away), MIRROR (PO > signer).
  5. FO specifies fingertip orientation, similarly to PO. Remember FO is defined in linguistics as the direction the fingertips would point if they were extended, not based on a closed HS, so that EQUAL would be FOs up, not FOs ><.
  6. If handshapes are used as classifiers, information showing how the classifier moves is described in single quotes, such as 1-CL'person walk up to me suddenly'.
  7. If the NDH stays in place from a previous sign while the DH continues a new sign, a dashed arrow can show the duration of the hold.
  8. Examples of a full glossing would be: (1) RACE/COMPETE - (2h)[A], POs ><, FOs away, alt. move FO from up to away with hands held close together. (2) AWFUL - DH [8], PO > NDS, FO up, is held over shoulder and moves away while flicking middle finger to become a [5]. (3) WIND - (2h)[5], POs ><, FOs away, sway antisymmetrically from side to side while pronating and supinating the palms.


1. ASL University: Handshapes

2. As described in Baker-Shenk, C. & D. Cokely (1991). American Sign Language: A teacher's resource text on grammar and culture. Clerc. ISBN 093032384X.

3. Turkish Sign Language.