Wiktionary:About sign languages

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Like spoken languages, sign languages (also called signed languages) have their own syntax, etymology, morphology, dialects, grammar, phonology, etc. There are numerous sign languages, generally divided by region. Some popular sign languages included in the English Wiktionary are American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), and French Sign Language (LSF). For more information, see the Wikipedia article on sign language.

Criteria for inclusion

The English Wiktionary shall include entries for signs of various signed languages, as well as translations from English-language entries into signed languages, as described at Wiktionary:Translations. Unlike spoken languages, sign languages are rarely written outside of reference materials and academic publications. Thus, the "clearly widespread use" condition of Wiktionary:Criteria for inclusion (CFI) is considered to be met by any sign that is used by multiple independent deaf communities, and the "usage in permanently recorded media" condition includes any visual media that has been widely distributed, including DVDs, broadcast television, and sign language dictionaries.


Sign language transcription systems represent signs with various degrees of fidelity, just as IPA and other phonetic transcriptions can represent spoken languages with broad, phonemic transcriptions or with very narrow phonetic transcriptions that capture details of specific accents. One popular system for transcribing signs is Stokoe notation, designed in 1960 for transcribing American Sign Language (ASL). Stokoe notation represents each sign as three cheremes (or more for compound signs) that occur without regard to timing or sequence, using characters that cannot be easily entered on a standard keyboard (e.g. , Ȝ, and ʘ) and some that cannot be used in Wiktionary entry pagenames due to technical limitations (e.g. [, ], and <). More recent systems transcribe each sign as a sequence of postures, like syllables of spoken languages.

The English Wiktionary uses multiple transcriptions for languages that are not written in the Latin (Roman) script: (a) IPA and similar systems show detailed phonetic or phonemic features within pronunciation sections, and (b) a simple transliteration system used to refer to the term itself, e.g. in Translation sections with {{t|tr=}} and in Etymology sections with {{term|tr=}}. A similar approach is taken for sign language entries, using a detailed transcription in Production sections and a simpler transcription for the sign entry names. Both are modeled after the phonological transcription system devised by Liddell and Johnson.[1]

Each sign is represented by a series of postures. A posture is a configuration of one or two hands, specifying phonemes for the shape, location, and orientation of the hands involved. The transitions between postures are given as holds and moves. A hold represents a period of time when one or two hands maintain a given posture. A move is an activity of one or two hands when one or more phonemes are in transition from one posture to the next. Nonmanual signals (e.g. the various question faces, “cha” mouthing, and shoulder shift) are described separately. (See Production, below.)

Entry name

Some sign language dictionaries organize signs according to English glosses. Readers must know a sign's meaning in order to locate its entry in such a dictionary. To serve the reader who has encountered a sign but does not know its meaning, the English Wiktionary gives each sign entry name as a rough description of postures, holds, and moves of one or two hands. Each such posture, hold, and move is separated from the others by a space and is itself divided into phonemes:

  • Handshape@Location-Facing: A posture of the dominant hand. That is, its handshape, location, and facing/orientation.
  • DominantHandshape@Location-Facing-NondominantHandshape@Location-Facing: A posture of both hands. That is, their handshapes, locations, and facing/orientations.
  • Move: The dominant hand moves from one posture to the next. The nondominant hand is not in use.
  • (DominantHandMove)-NondominantHandMove: The nondominant hand moves from the previous posture to the next.

When multiple signs are transcribed with the same title, they are treated like homographs, and each gets its own complete entry on that page.

The "Sign gloss:" namespace links to these entries using glosses as the page names: Sign gloss:FOOD links to the ASL entry FlatO@Mouth-PalmBack.[3]

Sign language entries

The structure of a sign language entry should be similar to that described in WT:ELE. Each entry should include a level two language header with the name of the sign language, e.g. ==American Sign Language==.


Facial expression, hand orientation, and other features of signs not included in entry pagenames are often important in proper signing. Such details are analogous to pronunciation details that are not always clear from the spelling of a word in a spoken language. Just as the ===Pronunciation=== section of a spoken language entry clarifies such details, a ===Production=== section should describe such details in a sign language entry. Options for such descriptions include hold-move charts (see transcription section below), narrative descriptions, video, images, and animated GIFs. Like IPA transcriptions in pronunciation sections of spoken language entries, hold-move charts in production sections of sign language entries give unambiguous descriptions that can be read and analyzed by automated systems and by humans, including readers with visual impairments. Like audio samples of pronunciation sections of spoken language entries, a linked video or one or more pictures or sketches in production sections of sign language entries can give a quick overview of sign production. When SignWriting becomes incorporated into Unicode, that method will be another option. To link to a video file, use [[:File:filename]] (note the colon after the open brackets).

Hold-move narratives

In a hold-move narrative in a Production section of each entry, postures are presented in a numbered list ordered according sequentially. Each hold appears as an unnumbered item after its corresponding posture. Each move appears as an unnumbered item between its initial and final postures. The format of a production section should match that of a pronunciation section, so the ordered list must be embedded in an unordered list, even if there is only one item in the unordered list. Alternative minor variations may be described using subsequent unnumbered list items.

*# Posture the dominant hand in the “Open A” handshape, ....
*#* Hold the posture.
*#* Move to the following posture.
*# Posture the dominant hand in the....
* Alternatively, the dominant hand may be located slightly above the....

Hold-move images

In a series of hold-move images in a Production section of each entry, postures are presented in a series, with diagrams showing arrows to indicate any relevant holds and moves.

Hold-move charts

In the hold-move chart in a Production section of each entry, segments and postures are presented using a tabular layout with two rows for each hand used in production of the sign. The top row for each hand represents a sequence of hold and move segments. The bottom row represents a sequence of postures. Each hold segment occupies a single column, with the posture for that hold appearing below the hold segment. Each move segment occupies two columns, with the initial and final postures appearing in the left and right column (respectively) below the move segment.

Part of speech

Each sign should be given a part of speech from WT:POS.

Headword line

The headword line should include a transcription of the sign, optionally accompanied by brief grammatical details. For example, the ASE verbs OpenA@Palm-ThumbUp-FlatB@CenterChesthigh-PalmUp OpenA@Palm-ThumbUp-FlatB@CenterSternumhigh-PalmUp (to help) and V@Cheek-FingerCheek V@Inside-FingerForward (to watch) are directional (i.e. their points of contact may vary with the location of the subject or object), which can be indicated on the headword line with a directional grammar tag:

OpenA@Palm-ThumbUp-FlatB@CenterChesthigh-PalmUp OpenA@Palm-ThumbUp-FlatB@CenterSternumhigh-PalmUp (directional)
  1. to help

If the part of speech does not adequately describe the grammar of the sign language entry, additional key grammatical details can be given in the headword line (see {{head}}). More extensive grammar notes belong in usage notes or (for directional verbs) in a ====Conjugation==== section.


As with other non-English language entries, the meaning of a sign should be given as an English gloss translation in a definition line. Unlike glosses typically found in linguistic analysis texts of sign languages, the definitions given in the English dictionary are not given in all capital letters.


As with other non-English language entries, examples should follow each definition to show the sign in a typical context. An English translation should follow the example. If necessary, a literal, word-for-word translation of the example may also be included.

Other sections after the definitions

Other secions may follow, as explained in WT:ELE, including usage notes, conjugation, declension, synonyms, antonyms, related terms, see also, etc.

Translations from English

For each sign language, a link to the sign language entry will be placed in the translation table of English entries, using the following format:

* Name of the sign language: [[DominantHandshape@Location(-Facing)(-NondominantHandshape@Location-Facing) (Move...)]]


  • Name of the sign language is replaced by the name of the sign language.
  • DominantHandshape and optionally NondominantHandshape are replaced by values from the Handshapes section in #Entry names above.
  • Location is replaced by value from the Locations section in #Entry names above.
  • Facing is replaced by a value from the Facings/orientations section in #Entry names above.

E.g., in the translations table of please:

See also


  1. ^ Liddell and Johnson (William C. Stokoe, ed.), 1989, Sign Language Studies, 64(195-277).
  2. ^ Liddell and Johnson use the symbol ">", which cannot be used in Wiktionary entry titles for technical reasons.
  3. ^ Wiktionary:Votes/pl-2015-12/Entry name: sign languages
  4. ^ Squeezing was not included in Liddell and Johnson, 1985, but was described later by Perlmutter, 1987.
  5. ^ Supalla and Newport (1978) distinguished ASL SIT and ASL CHAIR, along with many other noun-verb pairs in ASL, in terms of hold-move sequences, as did Liddell and Johnson (1989) and subsequent researchers.
  6. ^ Liddell and Johnson use the symbol “>”, which cannot be used in Wiktionary entry titles for technical reasons.