There are 5 elements to most signs. They are: shape, location, movement, orientation and non-manual elements. When you are learning new signs, especially when you don’t have a book or video to refer to, you need to write down these 5 aspects for the signs you are trying to learn. Of these 5 elements, the one that may not be used as often is the non-manual elements.
Here are the 5 elements along with how to describe the sign for GRANDMOTHER.
This is the shape of the hand when doing the sign. In many cases it is a shape that is similar to a letter or number. Or there are a few other shapes you will see often. Some of these are the mitten hand, claw, and bent V fingers. Use a description of the hand shape when notating signs.
For GRANDMOTHER the hand shape is just like the number 5.
This is a short description of where the sign is placed or moved from and to. For GRANDMOTHER you can say that you place the 5-hand on the chin.
There will usually be some type of movement with a sign. If there is no movement, then you can say that the sign is placed at a location. Building on the two previous elements, you would say that GRANDMOTHER is done by placing the 5 hand on the chin and then pushing it forward about 6 inches.
This is the orientation of the hand when making the sign. Often I will notate signs by writing down the orientation of the palm. Does it face up, down, left or right? For GRANDMOTHER it is easier to write down where the fingertips of the 5-hand are pointing. GRANDMOTHER is done with the fingertips pointed straight up.
This would be things like facial expression or body language. Not all signs will have this. Many words can be negated by shaking the head NO when doing the sign.
The word for GRANDMOTHER does not have any specific non-manual elements that need to be notated.
A full written description of GRANDMOTHER would be something like this: Place the 5-hand, with the fingers pointing up, on the chin. Then move, or push, the hand forward about 6 inches.
Hello! Welcome to LearnSigns.com. This is lesson number 11.
In this lesson we are going to talk about how to notate signs. Or how to write down sign descriptions so that you can view a new sign that somebody is doing, write it down quickly and be able to reproduce it later. In case it is a new sign you haven’t learn.
You are probably in a sign language class. If these are the only lessons you are taking you have a teacher here. That is teaching you. You get a chance to see what I am teaching. But there are sometimes you will be in a class where the teacher will use signs that they are not necessarily teaching. Maybe they are talking with a deaf student, or you have a deaf teacher and they are working through an interpreter. Sometimes they will use signs that you don’t know, or signs that they are not necessarily planning on teaching.
If you had a way to write those signs down quickly, then you could learn many more signs than what is being taught in the lessons. So this is an important way…important information to know so that you can get new signs, or learn new signs that aren’t being taught by your teachers. Or, maybe you have some deaf friends that are talking between themselves that you want to write down the description of the signs. You don’t have to be an artist for this. You don’t have to be able to draw a description of the sign. You can write it down quickly.
So here are some things you can do, things you can learn on how to notate signs quickly.
You already know some basic hand shapes. You know the alphabet. You know some basic general signs. So now you have enough signs and enough information that you can build new signs with that.
For example, you know the sign for MOTHER. It is the 5-hand. So you are using the number 5 that we learned earlier in the lessons. You already knew the number 5 and I just said, when we learned the sign for MOTHER, that you take th 5-hand and you place it on your chin. Well, if you saw someone do that then you could write that down quickly. You could write, “they put their 5-hand on their chin with their thumb touching their chin. What does this mean?” Then you find out what it means. You can do that simply by writing down the elements you know—the 5-hand, or the A-hand for girl. You can use the elements you already know to build new signs.
So, let’s talk about the 5 basic elements of each sign. Every sign will have these elements. Some are more important than others in signs, but they all basically have 5 elements.
Number 1: Hand shape
The shape of your hand needs to be distinct. You need to have a distinct action or shape for your hand. It is not lazy. Let’s go back to the word for MOTHER. It is the 5-hand. If you just went, MOTHER. It is not really distinct that it is a 5, it is just your thumb sitting here. Well, that is not the sign for mother. You need to have a distinct shape for your hand. So, shape is the first one. You need to have a distinct shape.
Number 2: Location.
Where is the sign located? For example, the word KNOW. The word KNOW. It is your B-hand, or your mitten hand. The B is actually with your thumb in. If I say it is the mitten hand it is with the thumb out. Then it is bent. Bent mitten. Or, bent B. Then you are going to place it on your forehead. The fingertips on your forehead. So the location is at your forehead. For MOTHER the location is at your chin.
And then you have Movement
Number 3: Movement
What does the sign do? Does it move from top to bottom? Front to back? Or back to front? What is the movement of the sign?
So you have shape, location, movement and then orientation.
Number 4: Orientation
If you have the word MOTHER again, the orientation is that your fingertips are up. Your fingertips are up. Your thumb is touching your chin and your fingertips are up. So your hand shape is the 5-hand. The location is on the chin. The movement is that it comes in, or in this case you would say you place your thumb with your fingers up. And that is your orientation on your chin.
So those four elements right there tell you how to make the sign for MOTHER. You’ve got shape, location, movement and orientation.
Fifth Element: Non-manual Elements
Non-manual information. For example, facial expressions are part of that. If you do the word QUESTION, QUESTION you take your 1…we are going to take our shape of the 1-hand and we’re going to bend it over while moving in the shape of a question mark. QUESTION. QUESTION.
So we have shape, location in front of you. Movement is that it moves like the shape of a question mark. And the orientation is the palm is out. Now you put the non-manual information is your facial expression. “I have a question.” Have a question. A question.
So you see all five of those elements in there. Now when you learn new signs, when you are seeing other people sign and learning from your teacher, then you can take quickly and write down the sign. To do the word QUESTION here is my description. It has shape, location, it has movement, orientation (palm left, right, up down). It has non-manual information, things that don’t pertain to the hands. Maybe there’s a shoulder shrug that goes with it. For a sign. So that would be your non-manual information.
Those are your five basic elements for each sign. So you can take your basic hand shapes that you already know. Your alphabet. Your numbers. Others signs. You already know MOTHER. So now, FATHER you do the same thing, except you do it at your forehead. FATHER. MOTHER, FATHER. If you already knew MOTHER, then you could quickly say, Well, it is just like MOTHER except it is at the forehead instead of the chin. So that helps you with your telling the location. Everything else is the same, but the location is different.
So try to think through those real basic five elements there when you go to notate or write signs down.
There’s your five elements for how to use signs. You’re going to see later, we are going to talk about what is called classifiers. You actually already know some classifiers. But in some cases you can say it is the claw hand. I have talked about that I have used the claw hand. It is the 5 bent down into a claw. That is a classifier. It is not really a number, letter, or whatever. But it is a shape that is going to be used in many different ways. And you can learn your notating new signs that you are learning, you can learn all kinds of new signs and notate them this way without having to be an artist.
And so that is what I wanted to teach you in this lesson. Is that you can notate signs. And you ought to. You should look around. Maybe watch some YouTube videos that have deaf people telling stories. Oh, there are many deaf stories you can find on YouTube. They are great stories. Maybe you don’t know this sign. What was the shape that was used and how did they do this. You can learn many new signs by doing that, by writing things down and practicing them. Of course, it is helpful if you already know what the sign is and then you can write it down and practice and learn.
When my wife and I lived in South America, we were learning Argentine sign language. And what I would do is I would sit in my class, I would go to class and my wife didn’t. She also knows sign language. I would sit in my class and I would notate all the signs I would learn in class and I could go home and reproduce every one of them perfectly because of knowing these five elements for each one of the signs and writing it down so I could reproduce it faithfully and clearly for her.
So make sure that when you write down signs you write down those five elements and then make sure you reproduce those signs properly.
Let me say a word about orientation. I think the others are pretty clear. Shape, location, movement then orientation and non-manual information.
Orientation: Sometimes you will see in books, if you are looking, they will talk about supine hand or your prone hand. Don’t worry about those fancy terms. Just learn that, and this is the way I do it, I do it “palm up,” “palm facing down,” “palm facing to the left or to the right.” If you are reading a book and it does the description and says your palm faces left. Then you need to realize that most of the time books are written for right handed people. So if you are left-handed and it says the palm faces left when you do this sign. Then for you, as a left-handed person your palm is going to face right. Now, up and down is still the same, but your palm left and right will change based on which hand is your dominant hand. So if you are dominantly left-handed, then you palm orientation is usually going to be different, or opposite on the left and right from what it shows in the book. And then, down, palm up, palm facing you, palm out those are basic orientations.
Fingertips up for MOTHER. Fingertips touching the forehead, and that would be your orientation for KNOW. For the word KNOW. So think about those things when you are writing down orientation. What that means is, how is your hand oriented in space. And that will help you.
Alright? So you have five elements to writing down, or notating signs are shape, location, movement, orientation and non-manual information.
I will have this written out at LearnSigns.com/11. I will have the show notes for this and I will have these five elements written out with a short description of those.
I appreciate you watching. Please tell your fiends about the LearnSigns podcast and they can subscribe to it as well. They can get the lessons each week, or as often as I put them out. Right now they have been weekly, but watch for the new lessons when they come out. You can find them each time at LearnSigns.com. This lesson can be found at LearnSigns.com/11. You can find that there. Thank you for watching.
5 replies on “LearnSigns 011: Notating Signs”
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