4 Fingerspelling in BSL

English Notes
BSL Video

Finger spelling in BSL

Finger spelling is a code for spelling out words on the hands, the way they are written in English. In the British two-handed alphabet, the leading hand forms the letters and uses the other hand as a base (except for the one-handed 'C').

BSL users have adapted fingerspelling in various ways. It is used most often for the English names of people, places, titles, etc. Abbreviation and initialisation have helped to create new signs, e.g. K repeated for KITCHEN; EDH is a pattern for EDINBURGH; PR is a pattern for PRESTON.

Finger spelling (or the manual alphabet) should not be thought of as a substitute for BSL. When a sign is not known, finger spelling a word might lead to misunderstanding because one English word may have a large number of equivalent signs. For example, the English word TRAIN translates into at least 4 different signs depending on the context it is used in: (1) a railway train; (2) a bridal train; (3) to practice; (4) to instruct. So, do not think of finger spelling as the simple answer to not knowing a sign.

It is best to learn how to fingerspell through your BSL teacher, who will help you to see the patterns created by the fingers as they move through the letters of a word. You will want to create the same kind of patterns, rather than spelling letter by letter from drawings on a card. You will find that you can read words without looking directly at the hands and without needing the signer to slow down.


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