5.3 Esatblished and Productive signs

English Notes
BSL Video

Esatblished and Productive Signs


Frozen signs are signs that are established and recognised as items within the language's vocabulary. They have less need to be strongly visually-motivated.

Productive signs (also known as "classifier signs") can be used at any time to create entirely new signs to describe the appearance, movements and locations of objects. Because BSL is a visual language, signers often want to produce clear visual descriptions of referents.

Each productive sign (like any sign) contains a handshape that tells us something about the class of the object, and movements, locations and orientations that tell us more about the object’s appearance or else its path or location in space.

Frozen signs refer to general, abstract ideas of a referent, rather than a specific referent. Signs such as DOG, HOUSE or GARDEN could refer to dogs, houses and gardens of all sorts of sizes and appearances, but tell us clearly what the referent is. Productive signs do not identify a specific referent but do tell us much more about what the individual looks like (for example, we may see that some animal is large and woolly and has floppy ears, but we don’t know for sure that it is a dog, or we know that something is long and narrow but not know it is a garden)

Frozen signs have a smaller range of permitted handshapes, locations and movements. They often have "English" mouth patterns (mouthings). Productive signs can have almost any physically possible handshapes, locations and movements, in order to show what something looked like or how it behaved. They often have "BSL" mouth patterns (mouth gestures).


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