Sign time

I have recently started learning British Sign Language (BSL), and what a wonderful language it is!

Spoken English seems to actively delight in confusing its users (see, for example, my previous post on plurals, where so-called ‘regular’ forms are often anything but). With BSL, by contrast, it is generally (although, admittedly, not always) instantly clear why a word or concept is signed the way it is.

[NB: like most languages, BSL has a variety of dialects and local variations. The following are all from the Portsmouth dialect, as that is where I am learning the language.]

Place names in BSL are a prime example: ‘Portsmouth’ is signed as the letter ‘P’ and the sign for ‘mouth’. ‘Chichester’ is the letter ‘C’ and the sign for ‘chest’. ‘Isle of Wight’ is the letters ‘I’ and ‘O’, then a sign made by holding out both hands, palm upwards, and moving one up and the other down, then one down and the other up, as if weighing something: the Isle of Weight. (BSL apparently has an in-built fondness for puns, which makes me happy.)

‘Cat’ (as in the animal) is signed by holding both hands up to the face with fingers spread and moving them out from the centre of the face, indicating whiskers. ‘Dog’ is signed by pointing the first two fingers of both hands down in front of the body and moving them up and down, like canine paws begging for a treat.

cat  dog

[Images from, an invaluable resource for anyone learning or otherwise interested in BSL.]

Better still, BSL doesn’t bother with plural forms: to indicate two dogs, you just make the sign for ‘dog’ then the sign for the numeral two.

I really like this language. I may not have a natural affinity for it as I do for spoken English (I am forever getting my vowels muddled up when finger-spelling words in BSL: I have taken to thinking of it as Irritable Vowel Syndrome) but it’s intriguing and fun and gets me out of the house on a Thursday evening, and that’s got to be a good thing.

Or a giid thong, as I would probably spell it in BSL.

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