Gloss and transcription symbols

You may notice capitalized words, words with hypen and plus symbols, and non-English grammar here and there on the handspeak site as well as in sign language literature. They are a transcription of the ASL sentences, phrases, or words.

What is gloss

Wilcox describes gloss used for sign language transcription as follows:

Glossing is the practice of writing a morpheme-by-morpheme 'translation' using English words. Glosses indicate what the individual parts of the native word mean. Glosses do not provide a true translation, which would instead use appropriate English ways of saying "The same thing."

For example, German Es geht mir gut may be glossed as "It goes to-me good" (the hyphenated gloss "to-me" indicates that it refers to a single word in the original). A true English translation of this expression would be something like, "I'm doing fine." Ref

Glossing is not the same as translation. If the English sentence "I'm doing fine" were glossed in German transcription. It would look strange to German speakers and vice versa alike. Each language, whether signed or spoken, has their own grammar and structure.

When to use glosses

Glosses may be used in sign language books and other printed media on sign language linguistics and such. This Handspeak site often uses glosses and transcription symbols along with or without the videos to help online learners visualize.

However, keep in mind that ASL teachers normally don't use glosses in ASL classes, as learning and teaching are interactive. They may use them occasionally for certain pedagogical purposes in classes.

Transcription symbols

Below is a list of some conventional and few modified symbols, their examples, and explanation for this site.

The website "Handspeak" uses two different colors to identify ASL and English: gloss in aqua to indicate ASL and sometimes this color in translation for English.

capital letters. An English gloss in capital letters represents an ASL word or sign. It is known as gloss. Remember this is not a translation. It is only an approximate representation of the ASL sign itself, not necessarily a meaning.

The hyphen - is used to represent a single ASL word/sign when more than one English gloss is used. E.g. stare-at (a single ASL word) or GO-to.

The plus sign + between two ASL words is used for ASL compound words. Eg true+work for sure enough, MOTHER+FATHER for parents.

The plus sign ++ at the end of a gloss indicates a number of repetition of an ASL word. Eg again++ (signing "again" two more time) meaning "again and again". Another example, HELP+++ for "help many/several times" or "help from time to time" depending on the duration of the movement and spatial reference to convey different meanings.

/\ is used for raised eyebrows as found in topicalization, yes-no questions, and conjunctions. On the other hand, \/ is for burrowed eyebrows as found in wh-questions.

t or topic is a shortcut for "topicalization", usually with raised eyebrows.

fs- represents a fingerspelled word. Eg fs-ALICE

# represents a fingerspelled loan sign. Eg #ALL

ix, a shortcut for "index", is for a referential point in space. IX1 can mean one side and IX2 for another side of the signing space. It doesn't matter which side it is as long as you establish a spatial reference for a noun and you keep consistent with it in a sentence or paragraph until the subject is changed.

CL is a shortcut for "classifier" which can function as a "pronoun" or another form that represents an ASL noun and/or its verb predicate. It is used in a verb phrase as well as prepositional phrase.

loc is a shortcut for "locative", a part of the grammatical structure in ASL.

Think in ASL

A typical challenge is that hearing ASL learners often think in English while signing ASL. In our ASL classes, we often emphasize that ASL students must think in ASL while speaking ASL, just like when they speak French or another second language, they think in that language.

A concern with glossing is that glossing might reinforce the association of ASL with English that ASL students have a tendency to to think in English when articulating ASL. Remember that glosses are not true translation. Glosses are used for helping transcribing in print when ASL writing is not used.

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.

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.)

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.