[qdeck random="true"] [q] Role Shift [a] A technique used by signers to take on the role of different characters in a narrative.
Expressed in BSL via:

Taking on the eye gaze of a character (e.g, an adult looking down to talk to a child)

Taking on the physical characteristics of a character (e.g, a drunk person talking to a sober person)

Shifting your body to show who is signing. Most often side-to-side (e.g, two people stood next to each other), but you can also shift front-to-back (e.g, to show that someone was stood behind you)

[q] Conditional [a] Expresses the relationship between two sentences "I will go to the beach tomorrow, if the weather is nice"

Expressed in BSL via:


Eyebrow raises

Side to side head tilts

Tilting the head slightly forward

[q] Classifier Types [a]   Entity (your hand becomes the object) - "The pen was on the table"

Handling (you handle the object) - "I screwed it back in"

Tracing (you outline the object) - "A very long corridor"

[q] Connectors [a]   Used to link and complete sentences.

Unlike English, BSL does not use "But", "If" or "And" and instead has its own connectors, which can be split into two groups:

Actual Signs: What-for, through, Also, Over.

BSL: Pauses, Placements, Head Nods. [q] Eye Contact in Turn Taking [a] The person signing maintains eye contact with their conversational partner and pauses to invite the other person to begin signing.

The partner will maintain eye contact, nod and lean in slightly to indicate engagement and agreement. [q] Verbs [a] Plain - A verb which makes use of neither Syntactic nor Topographic Space.  E.g, "think".

Agreement / Directional - A verb which uses Syntactic Space.  E.g, "I called my sister".  You would place your sister in Syntactic Space and then move the verb "call" from yourself to the sister referent.

Spatial / Classifier - A verb which uses topographic space.  E.g, "I parked my car outside the bank".  You would place the bank in Topographic Space and then your placement of the "park" verb would show the real-world relationship between where the bank is and where you parked, ie, just outside.

[q] Hierarchical Space [a]   A sub-division of syntactic space into three tiers:

Signed above the shoulders: Boss, Mother, Government

Signed infront of the chest: Everyday things, Siblings, Colleagues

Signed at waist height: Employees, Children

[q] Topographic Space [a] A map of the real world is re-created in Signing Space to give information about what is happening where. 

"The bank is opposite the post office".

[q] Established lexicon [a] Signs in BSL's Establish Lexicon:

Can not be broken down into smaller units of meaning, or "phonemes".

Their handshapes, movement, location and orientation do not have any meaning on their own.

Are also known as "Frozen signs".

Includes signs which can be found in the dictionary or the lexicon of a fluent signer.

Many can easily be translated into English.

Have an English lip-pattern.

Only have one meaning.

Many of them are nouns (car, brother, sister, book).

[q] Question Types [a] Open: A question with a long or complicated answer.  Sometimes called "wh" questions because they tend to start with "who, what, where, why or how".  For example, "How do you feel about brexit?".

Closed: A question with a short, simple, true answer.  Often called "yes/no" questions.  For example, "Do you take milk with your tea?".

Tag: A question which expects a positive answer.  For example, "You like cricket, yes?".

Alternative: The question itself provides all possible answers. For example, "would you like a tea, coffee, or nothing?".

Rhetorical: No answer is required.

[q] How is a question indicated in BSL? [a] A sign signals a question.

A facial expression.

A characteristic sign order.

[q] What is Sociolinguistics? [a] The study of language in relation to such social factors as:

Region, Class, Occupational Dialect, Gender, Bilingualism, Family, Social Groups, Age, Religion, Ethnicity etc.

[q] Types of Fingerspelling [a] Fully Spelled: "Kate", "Bus".

Contracted: "NWS" (news), "DHM" (Durham)

Initialised: DD (Darlington), AA (The AA)

[q] Eye Gaze is used... [a] As part of a sign

In conjunction with locations/movements/referents in Signing Space.

To indicate Role Shift.

To invite someone to sign.

To mark time.

[q] Mouth Patterns [a] Spoken Components with First Letter signs: Garage, Government.

Spoken Components in signs: Room.

Mouth movements: Laugh, Vomit.

Parallel Mouth Signs / Sign Enacting: Disappear, Really.

[q] Plurals [a] Distribution: Repeating a sign in Syntactic Space: "Children".

Proform: Repeating a sign in Topographic Space: "A row of parked cars".

Quantifier: 1,2,3 “She bought three cakes".

Quantifier Copying: "He bought three cats, three".

Collective: A sweeping, inclusive motion.  "I ask you all", "I invite you all", "help each other".

[q] Aspect [a] Allows the signer to show the internal timing of events, via:

Repetition: slow/fast "knock".

Changing from a straight to an arching movement, e.g, the difference between "look" and "stare".

Hold at the end of a sign, "think".

Hold at the start of a sign, "crossroads".

Moving bit by bit, "to gradually wind up a clock", "to wind up by degrees".

Moving a sign slowly, "gradually approached them" vs "rushed up to them".

Some signs naturally express aspect: finish, been, often, always, frequently, normally.

[q] Syntactic Space [a] Syntactic Space is used to place people and objects.  This is called Placement and Referencing.

"I called my sister"

1st, the sister referent is placed in syntactic space.

2nd, the agreement / directional verb "phone" moved from myself to the sister referent.

[q] Negation [a] States whether or not something is the case.

"There is a snake in the car" - In a grammatical sense, this is a positive statement.  It is telling us what is true, even if we don't want a snake in our car.

"There are no snakes in the car" - This is negation.  Despite this being an objectively positive experience, we are saying that something is not the case.

There are specific negation signs: "nothing/nobody", "don't", "boo".

There are specific negation facial expressions: Pursed Lips, Narrowed Eyes, Furrowed / Lowered Eye-Brows, Head Shakes, Mouth Patterns and "mild vs extreme" ie, "I'm not bothered about snakes" vs "I hate snakes".

Negation Head Movements: Negation Head Turning - The head is turned away and held away, as in the sign "ignore".

Negation Head Movements: Repeated side to side movements.

[q] Idioms [a] A group of words, established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from that of the individual words:

English: "Over the moon", "I've seen the light".

BSL: "My hands are sealed", "1 2 5 train gone".

[q] Productive Lexicon [a] Created by the signer, it is the visually motivated animation of Established (or "Frozen") Lexicon using the elements of:

BSL Handshape

Non-Manual Features




"The car struggled to drive up the winding hill".

[q] Types of Signs [a] Established




Finger Spelling

Name Signs

[q] Gesture [a] Gestures, for example, a shrug, can be understood by Deaf and hearing alike.  Unlike BSL signs, gestures can not be strung together into a grammatically correct sentence.

Gestures can be used in BSL to:

Clarify Meaning

Immitate / Mimic / Mock

Express a person's body language.

[q] How is Turn Taking Shown and Recognised in BSL? [a] Eye Gaze: Gazing at your conversational partner can show that you wish to start signing.

Tapping / Waving / Stamping Feet: To get your partners attention.

Body Lean In / Nods: To show that you are following / understanding.

[q] What is a Plain verb? [a] Plain verbs make use of neither Syntactic nor Topographic Space.  They may be body anchored ("like") or produced in signing space ("swim").

[q] What is a Spatial / Classifier Verb? [a] Verbs which use topographic space.  These signs change depending on what you are signing about.  For example, there are lots of signs for "open" (opening a jar, a door, a window).  They are known as classifier verbs because they always have a classifier.


Wash (your face, your car, your dog)

Shave (your beard, your leg, your dog!)

Brush (your hair, your driveway, your dog).

[q] How is Eye Gaze used in Role Shift? [a] Eye Gaze orientations are an essential part of Role Shift, however, they are the least obvious of the shift markers.  Eye gaze is mostly used in conjunction with other shift markers.

Once a signer has taken on the role of a character, the signers eye gaze can also represent the eye gaze of the character.

Example: A character looks down, then the signer looks down.

[q] What are the elements of the Productive Lexicon? [a] BSL Handshapes




Non-Manual Features

[q] How can BSL change over time? [a] BSL is a visually motivated language.  This visual motivation is essential to a productive Lexicon.

BSL can change over time as visual motivations change, for example when steam trains became obsolete the sign for train changed from the puffing of steam to moving the lever forwards.

New, visually motivated signs can be introduced as required, for example Twitter, WhatsApp.

Signs which cause offence can be updated to match modern sensibilities, for example Chinese (from the eye-related sign to the outline of the sash on their national dress) or Indian (from the forehead body-anchored sign to the outline of the country).

[q] Possessives [a] Using a closed fist to refer to yourself or others "my house", "our dog", "your problem".

[q] Compounds [a] Sequential Compounds

Combining two signs, one after the other. For example:

”say” and “definitely” to sign “truth”,

"think" and "true" to sign "believe".

Simultaneous Compounds

Combining two signs at the same time. For Example:

“phone” and “keyboard” to sign “minicom",

"plane" and "rocket" to sign "space shuttle".

[q] Adjectives [a] BSL, unlike English, introduces a Topic, then adds a Comment, which means that you need to place your adjective after your noun:

English: It is hot today.

BSL: Today, hot.

[q] Modal Verbs [a] Can, Would, Should, Will.

BSL places modal verbs after verbs, for example

English: I should clean the car.

BSL: Car clean I should.   

[q] Features of Spoken languages [a] Uses vowels and consonants to make words.

Uses mouth to create sounds.

Uses ears to receive information.

Based on sound.

Uses speech and hearing.

Words come after each other to create sentences.

[q] Features of Signed Languages. [a] Uses hand-shape, orientation, location, movement and non-manual features (NMF) to create signs.

Uses body language to express meaning.

Uses hands to create signs.

Uses eyes to receive information.

Based on hands and eyes.

Uses signing space to place locations and concepts.

[q] Features of Formal, Signed Conversation. [a] Restricted use of signing space.

Less use of role shift.

Facial expression only used for expressing grammatical information as opposed to emotions.

Restrained body language.

Use of appropriate multi channel signs for the formal environment.

Precise articulation.

Technical language / jargon.

More fingerspelling.


[q] Features of Informal, Signed Conversation. [a] Space used tends to be larger.

More use of role shift.

Facial expressions used to convey emotions.

Relaxed body language.

Less fingerspelling.

A greater variety of multi channel signs.

Slang / profanity / swearing.

May include greater use of gesture.

Relaxed articulation (including one-handed variants of two-handed signs).

[q] Formal Conversation Venues [a] Work meetings, conferences, talking to strangers, talking to colleagues, talking to your boss, talking to professionals (ie, a doctor, teacher or police officer, debates.

[q] Informal Conversation Venues [a] Talking to friends, talking to family, talking to children, social events, everyday conversation.

[q] Symmetry [a] Two Handed, asymmetric signs: "butter", "difficult", "organise".

Two Handed, symmetrical signs,where the hands touch: "agree", "disagree".

Two Handed, symmetrical signs where the hands do not touch: "bicycle", "competition".

Two Handed, symmetrical, body-anchored signs: "cow", "fur".

[q] Sentence Structure [a] The Lazy Octopus Sat Very Quietly.

Time, Location, Object, Subject, Verb, Question.

English: Why did I go running yesterday?

BSL: Yesterday, running, me, why?

[x] You Did It :) [/qdeck]