Fingerspelled loan signs in sign language

English has a number of words and phrases borrowed from other spoken languages. For example "algebra" from Arabic, "kindergarten and sauerkraut" from German, "comedy" and "drama" from Greek, "tortilla" from Spanish, and so on.

While American Sign Language (ASL) has a number of signed loanwords from other signed languages, it also can borrow words from spoken languages. How? Fingerspelling.

Lexicalized fingerspelling

Unlike regular fingerspelling, fingerspelled loan signs are the signs that a fingerspelled word is evolved into a sign. They are also known as lexicalized fingerspelling.

Below are some examples of the loan-signs or loanwords which usually marked with a "#" followed by capital letters:

#OK, #ALL, #IF, #EX, #OR, #OHH!, #OFF, #ON, #OR, #OT (overtime), #SO, #WHAT! and so on. #FUN, #TTY, #BUS, #PIZZA.

To help my ASL students understand, do you know that the ASL sign "NO" itself is an abstract fingerspelled loan? I showed them, fingerspelling N-O evolving into ASL sign #NO. The students flashed their eyes. Yeah, you'd never know that.

A few other fingerspelled loanwords don't look like the other fingerspelled loanwords at all and ASL students are often surprised to learn that the ASL signs were originated from fingerspelling such as:


Some loanwords are stylized such as #STYLE (one of ASL students' "favorite difficulties"), #QUIZ, and so on.

ASL students are advised to perceive them as ASL words, not fingerspelled words, by perceiving the movement and shape of the words. Do they listen English words by letter by letter? No, they perceive the whole word of its shape and movement.

Related posts

Related posts: Loanword and borrowing in sign language.

New to sign language? "Where do I start?" or "How do I start learning sign language?" This ASL Rookie guide lists some selected links to the tutorials for ASL beginners to get started and keep rolling. It may be a useful review for intermediate-level learners and ASL students as well.

Some tutorial pages are a mix of free and premium versions. Access to premium content and links below are available in the PatronPlus subscription. More links/posts will be added from time to time.

Expressing needs and wants

  1. Making commands or requests

Talking about activities

  1. Frequency of time: how often?

Are you able to carry everyday conversations in ASL? Are you a student in the intermediate levels and beyond, who wishes to boost up your signing skills? You've come to the selected tutorial series. (Some premium content are available to PatronPlus membership.)

Stories, poems, performance arts, etc. in sign language.

This documentation project follows a child's language acquisition, literacy development, and phonological acquisition in sign language, specifically ASL, from newborn to age five in a natural native-ASL environment and visual culture.