Classifier is a linguistic symbol that represents a class or group of objects or subjects. It represents a group of referents. In summary, it is described as a pronoun-like representation of a noun.
In ASL, a noun should be signed first before using its classifier to refer to it until a subject or noun is changed. A classifier can integrate into a pronoun, an adjective, a verb, an adverb, and/or a preposition.
ASL linguistics describes several different classes of classifiers. Below explains each of the classifier classes with some examples.
Semantic classifiers are proforms that function as "pronoun" that replaces a noun (or a noun in a predicate ). Some examples of semantic classifiers are: CL-1 (e.g. a person), CL-2 (e.g. two persons), CL-2-upsidedown (a standing person), CL-2-claw (e.g. an animal), CL3-vehicle, etc.
Descriptive classifiers are used to describe a shape, a size, a texture, or a pattern.
The handshapes of instrumental classifiers describe how an object is handled. E.g. using a tool, holding a book, cutting with a knife, pushing a button, lifting a jar lid, pulling a nail, etc.
These classifiers use both the handshapes and movements to describe the property and movement of the elements of fire, water, and air.
Two types of locative classifiers are 1) location and 2) pathline.
Locative classifier is used to indicate a location of something, or the position relative to another. It is also used as a pathline of the object and its movement and/or distance.
Body classifier uses a direct contact with most of the upper frontal part of the body to refer to a part of the body.
Body part classifier (BPCL) is a symbol that refers to a part of the body beyond the frame of signing area -- e.g. legs, back, feet, etc.
For example, you utter the ASL word #foot and then use its classifier (e.g. the passive hand) to represent the foot.
For a brain or a heart, you use the classifier in the mid-air space.
Plural classifier is a plural symbol of a noun or subject. E.g. CL-open-hand, horizontal, palm down for "many birds flying in the sky".
Ken, Mikos, Smith, Cheri, Mae Ella. Signging Naturally, Level 2. DawnSignPress. p xiv.
Ken, Mikos, Smith, Cheri, Mae Ella (2014). Signging Naturally, Unit 6-12. DawnSignPress.
Also see locative classifiers (LCL).
Feeling baffled by what classifier in sign language is? Review introducing classifiers for a basic understanding.