What does "lexicalized fingerspelling" mean?
Easy definition: Lexicalized fingerspelling is fingerspelling
that looks like a sign.
In ASL books a "lexicalized fingerspelled sign" is indicated by the
symbol # preceding the sign.
For example: #BUSY
The # symbol before the sign BUSY means you would use the
fingerspelled version of "busy" that has been mutated to the extent
that it looks like a sign rather than just fingerspelling.
The # symbol, which goes by many names,
(number sign, crosshatch character, pound sign, hash, octothorpe,
etc.) is used to indicate the lexicalization of a fingerspelled
word. (For example: #ALL, #WHAT, #BUSY). When you "lexicalize" a
fingerspelled word, you mutate the spelling so that it is produced
more like a sign than a fingerspelled word.
A student asks: "When we see #busy, do we sign the # sign and
then the word busy?"
Response: No. The # sign is simply a way to indicate on paper or
on the screen that a concept is a "lexicalized fingerspelled word."
Lexicalization means that the manner of spelling is different from
normal spelling. A lexicalized spelled concept will actually look
more like a sign than fingerspelling.
For example: #WHAT is actually spelled palm facing up/back, hand
moving downward/ forward, changing from a "W" into a "T." (You drop
the H and the A.)
The word "Lexical" means "having the characteristics of a lexeme."
A lexeme is the fundamental unit of the lexicon of a language.
So what does that mean? Let me give you an example: the word
"spell" is a lexeme. "Spells, spelled, and spelling" are all forms
of the English lexeme "spell."
The "lexicon of a language is its "vocabulary." So "lexicon" is
another word for "vocabulary."
So, you can think of it this way:
"Lexeme" basically means "word."
"Lexicon" basically means "vocabulary."
"Lexical" basically means "word-like" or "like a word."
In our case, it means, "like a sign," or more specifically, "done in
such a way as to have the characteristics of a sign."
In a message dated 1/10/2007 9:24:05 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Could you please distinguish for me the difference between a
loan sign and a lexicalized fingerspelled word?
Sharon Loveall, M.A.
In the old days we used to call fingerspelling that looked like
a sign "loan signs."
Then later we stopped calling such fingerspelling "loan" signs
and started calling such fingerspelling "lexicalized
fingerspelling." Which means, "spelling that has taken on the
characteristic of a lexeme." Lexeme is a fancy word that
basically means "word" (or in our case, "a sign.") Thus
lexicalize fingerspelling is a fingerspelled concept that looks
and functions more like a sign than like fingerspelling.
Then we started calling signs that we borrowed from other signed
languages, "loan signs."
So, think of signs borrowed from fingerspelling as being
Think of signs borrowed from other sign languages as being "loan
Some fingerspelled concepts in ASL have
mutated over the years. Over time they have changed to look more
like individual signs and less like strings of fingerspelled
letters. For example, here are a few concepts that are commonly
"fingerspelled" but no longer look like normal fingerspelling
because they have mutated in some way.
The term "lexicalized" means to have become like
a word (or sign).
March 19, 2003
In the field of Deaf Education, many deaf
education teachers and hearing parents of deaf children try to
avoid “fingerspelling” and of course, deaf or hard of hearing
children are having difficulty reading. Lexidactylophobia
is what Donald A. Grushkin (1998) describes in the deaf
education field. Phobia in psychology means irrational fear or dread
of a particular phenomenon or situation. Donald explained lexi
in Greek means word and dactyl means finger. Many deaf
educators are lexidactylophobia in classrooms. They have a negative
attitude of using fingerspelling.
What do we know
about lexicalized fingerspelling? “ASL creates new signs in a third
way – representing the symbols of written English with ASL signs.”
(Lucas & Valli, 2000) We see a lot of deaf communities’ fingerspell
in their daily conversations. It represents words ideographically.
Chinese Sign Language used written Chinese and syllabically system
while Danish Sign Language used ‘mouth-hand” systems as well
alphabetically are the examples of fingespelling. Robbin Battison,
ASL linguist did on first research on fingerspelling in ASL.
Lexicalized fingerspellings are signs and free morpheme. ASL
researchers used # to mark the sign as their fingerspelling symbol
for written purpose. In fingerspelling, there are 8 of the changes
that are part of process in the lexicalization process and it was
described by Robbin Battison. (1978).
Some of the
signs may be deleted is one of the ‘changes’ process. For
example, we fingerspell #YES, we delete “E” and sign “Y” and “S”
While signing #YES, there are 2 handshapes in sequence. We can
fingerspell with more than 3 or 4 handshapes in sequence, here are
the examples of using more than 3 or 4 handsapes, #BACK, #RARE,
#SURE, #WHAT, and #EARLY. (Lucas & Valli, 2000) The location and
handshape may change. Also movement may be added and
their orientation may change, too. You may see a sign that is
repeatedly, #HA is an example. It’s called reduplication of the
movement. Using second hand may be added, too. We sign
#BACK to express more emphasis. Lastly of 8 changes during
fingerspelling is grammatical information may be included.
Using this process, it refers us to people and places.
As early as 6
months old, a deaf child attempts to sign such as babbling. (Bonvillian
& Richards, 1993). Hearing babies babble all the time. It’s the same
way deaf babies or -small children who are exposed on signing
babbles through moving their fingers or hands. They imitate
fingerspelling through wiggles of the fingers same as hearing
children will play with letters in written.
fingerspell as they practice and it helps develop their everyday
life with their language use and how they write on a paper. (Padden,
1990) Futher, Gates, and Chase, (1976) found that children who are
deaf showed their spelling ability was greater than hearing children
because of visual recognizing the word and use fingerspell. Deaf
educators must realize it’s important to realize they must teach
deaf children to recognize the link between fingerspelling and
written language. (Grushkin, 1998) By doing that, their language
boosts up and they can be comfortable in reading and understanding.
Teachers of the
Deaf need to realize it’s important not to avoid fingerspelling
approach to support the literacy and vocabulary in deaf children’s
language develop. They should be able to express and receptive
skills. They also should know when and how to use fingerspelling.
They need to be aware of the important of using lexicaled
fingerspelling approach and how this will benefit children from
elementary to high school level. (Grushkin, 1998)
Grushkin, Donald (1998). Lexidactylophobia:
The (Irrational) Fear of Fingerspelling American Annals of the
Valli, C., & Lucas, C. (2002).
Linguistics of American Sign Language: Lexicalized Fingerspelling &
Loan Signs. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press
Battison, R. (1978). Lexical borrowing in
American Sign Language. Silver Spring, MD. Linstok Press.
Gates, A. I. & Chase, E.H.(1976) Methods
and theories of learning to spell test by studies of deaf children..
Visible Language. 339-350
Padden, C.A. (1990) Deaf Children and
Literacy: Literacy Lessons. (ERIC Documentation Reproduction
Service No ED 321 069)
In a message dated 8/28/2003 11:01:26 AM Pacific Daylight Time, a
What is the world's best video series for Fingerspelling receptive
DVD would be terrific, because I can slow that down as necessary to
decipher the words.
You name it, I'll jump on it.
As far as videos go...I recommend "Groode, J. L., Holcomb, T., &
Dawn Sign Press. (1992). Fingerspelling, expressive & receptive
fluency a video guide. San Diego, CA: Dawn Sign Press" for
beginners. But since you are not a beginner I'd
recommend you get a little fingerspelling book (I think it is
titled "Expressive and Receptive Fingerspelling for Hearing Adults"
or something like that) and use it to make your own practice video
by spelling words to a camcorder while voicing what your are
spelling. Then later (a day or two) watch the video with the sound
off and see how you do. You can use it as a written test if you'd
like, and then play it back with the sound on to check your answers.
Or you can use the practice sheets from my fingerspelling pages to
make a video.
I just looked up the title of that book. It is:
Guillory, LaVara M.: Expressive and receptive fingerspelling
for hearing adults. Baton Rouge : Claitor´s Publ. 1988 - 42 p.:
Note, some highbrows (or monobrows?) may take exception to this
book. It is not in vogue. But I personally feel it presents a very
intelligent and effective approach to fingerspelling success for
Hearing adult ASL-as-a-second-language learners.
In a message dated 2/22/2005 8:50:46 AM Pacific Daylight Time,
I just found your site and I am excited to be able to use it. I
am currently enrolled in class and will soon graduate. I am taking a
class in ASL linguistics and have had the following question posed
to me for homework. When do you use the Lexicalized sign or the ASL
sign for the following words? #BUSY BUSY, #CAR , #BED, BED.
When would you use one over the other? When would your fingerspell
#BUSY instead of using the BUSY? etc..
In a message dated 2/22/2005 12:05:28 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
Good question. And did your teacher assign me as the person
to contact to do your homework for you or did he mention a textbook
where you could find that information?
Please don't be offended by what I just said. But seriously, what
book or resource has he provided to you to find the answer?
Here's "one" example of when I'd use a lexicalized fingerspelled
sign over the regular sign:
* If I'm holding a sandwich in one hand.
A general note: Lexicalization of fingerspelling is a process that
happens over time. Some words are fully lexicalized but many words
are not yet "fully lexicalized." It is going to vary from user to
If you DO find a clear, well described set of "rules" for when to
and not to use lexicalized fingerspelling I'd LOVE to see it.
In a message dated 2/22/2005 12:21:54 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
No, no textbook type research. We are just supposed to ask people
who are deaf, Coda's or interpreter's what they do and then write a
one page essay on it. I just chose you because I happened on your
web site and I was impressed that you might have a different
perspective. So any more words of wisdom? I would really appreciate
Ah, I see.
Okay...here are a few more situations for lexicalization and/or to
spell something instead of sign it:
1. To emphasize a point.
2. To make a comparison (spell on different hands)
3. To incorporate directionality (establish verb agreement):
Example: GIVE B-A-C-K-(to a specific person.) The sign moves in a
4. To save effort. It is faster to spell C-A-R than to sign CAR. It
is faster and easier to spell D-A-Y than to sign DAY.
5. Older signers who learned ASL before the introduction of various
signed concepts. These individuals sometimes continue to fingerspell
such concepts instead of adopting the new signs.
6. To allow for one handed signing while driving, eating, or similar
7. To resist changes to your language that you are not comfortable
with. For example, using the lexicalized form of "email" (The
letters "E-M-I-L" (starting with an "e" and then using partially
formed/overlapping "m/a/i" letters and ending with a strong L or a
deformed ILY handshape) -- moving toward the person receiving the
email) rather than adopting the sign "EMAIL."
In a message dated 2/22/2005 1:11:26 PM Pacific Daylight
Time, firstname.lastname@example.org writes:
ANything specific on those three words? #CAR #BUSY #BED?
For example, you would not sign BED when talking about the
bed of a pick up truck or a flower bed. It was suggested to
me that your would #BUSY when talking about the photo copier
being busy, or the phone line was busy. and BUSY would be
more for a person being busy.
What so you think?
Yeah...I know what you are talking about. It has to do with
semantics. Certain signs have a specific meaning and can't be
used to mean other things. For example, the sign "BED" (flat
hand against side of head) refers to the thing you sleep in.
The sign BED would not be appropriate if you were talking about
a truck bed or a flower bed. You'd
fingerspell B-E-D in those circumstances.
Phones are B-U-S-Y (fingerspelled) not BUSY (signed). Also
there is a difference between #BUSY (lexicalized sign) and
B-U-S-Y (fingerspelled sign). I just interviewed three Deaf
co-workers (capital D) and they all used #BUSY to mean "very
busy" and B-U-S-Y to indicate a busy dial tone.