14 Rules of Fingerspelling

English Notes
BSL Video

Rules of Fingerspelling 

Fingerspelling use varies hugely between signers. However, it is used for many different parts o the language in different ways, including for:

Whole proper names (eg b-i-l-l-s-t-o-k-o-e- or –t-o-n-y-b-l-a-i-r)

Whole other content words (e-c-l-i-p-s-e or i-r-a-q)

Acronyms and alphabetisms (e.g. b-d-a, b-s-l or b-b-c)

Whole function words (e.g. i-f, o-r or f-o-r)

Single Manual Letter Signs (e.g. –m-m- MOTHER, f-f- FATHER, t-t- TOILET, g-g- GINGER)

Abbreviations (e.g. a-b-t ABOUT, e-d-h EDINBURGH, g-d GATESHEAD) 

Manual letter with non-derived sign (e.g. –w-WORTH = WOOLWORTHS or –p-MOUTH = PORTSMOUTH)


Loans of grammar words and grammatical constructions only happen if the contact between languages is close enough.  There few fingerspelled English grammar words that have a commonly accepted role within BSL but they occur with a fairly high frequency.  The most central are -b-u-t-, -i-f-, -f-o-r- and -o-r-.  

14.1 Rules

14.2 Proper nouns

14.3 Three-letter words

14.4 Longer Words

14.5 The letter C

14.6 Open vs closed letters

14.7 New L, O and I


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