Glossing Basics




Sign language is a visual-gestural language, and ordinarily, you will not see it written, because of the nature of the language. However, sign language can be in a written format, and this is called glossing. Today I will briefly show you how sign language looks when it’s in its written format. Generally speaking, those who use sign language as their (A) language which is known as one's primary language, typically will not write in gloss, they generally write in their (B) language, which is their second language, and that would be their countries native tongue.

Please enjoy!


Glossing Basics

Glossing is the written configuration that is used to study American Sign Language.  It is a way of writing exactly what is shown on the hands and face, from the signer. Glossing is used as a means to cite and record individual signs and facial expressions. Glossing is especially useful in grasping how ASL syntax is unique from English syntax.

When glossing, it is imperative to remember the elemental rules.  The utmost rule is the use of capital letters, which denotes the signs that are formed on the hands.  It is significant to mention that when glossing you should not add any extra English words such as, (i.e.: the, a, or, is, and, but, to). Capital letters are gauges of the exact signs being used.  The fact that these are written in all caps signifies the particular signs that are used rather than an English translation of those signs.

Facial Expressions

There are five rudimentary facial expressions that you should become familiar with:  They are as followed, affirmation, negation, yes/no questions, wh- question, and topicalization.  An affirmation is formed by nodding.  An affirmation indicates something that is true or in fact happened. Contrasting an affirmation is negation, which is displayed by a slight shaking of the head (side to side). Negation indicates that something did not happen. The same group of signs, contingent on the facial expressions used, can either specify affirmation or negation.  To show negation, you would create a line above the signed word for the duration of which the negation is fashioned and you would write as followed “neg.” This is the indicator a slight shaking of the head.

The yes/no question specifies that the signer is entreating for more information from the person that they are speaking to. The signer wants clarification if the subject matter is true or false. An individual creates a yes/no question by raising the eyebrows and faintly leaning frontward the person that the question is being asked to. It is noteworthy to mention that leaning frontward is small and not a lean of the body. This is a slight tipping of the head to the person while the eyebrows are raised up. Yes/no questions are glossed by drawing a line and writing a “q” above that line.

Additionally, the wh- facial expression is fashioned by lowering the eyebrows. This is glossed in writing by a wh- above the facial expression line. Occasionally the wh- expression will be throughout the entire question and from time to time it will be formed only at the end of the sentence over the wh- word itself.

Lastly, the topic is glossed with a (T) over the facial expression line. The topic, is formed by raising the eyebrows at the opening of a sentence. A topic can be thought of as a “mini-question” in which you ask the person whom you are talking to.

Below I have included some examples of ASL Gloss.