Linguistics Terminology Lists

Accent : systematic variation in the pronunciation of words or signs, such as the regional accents we find in British English. It is not yet known if BSL has regional accents. 

Adjectives an adjective is a word (or sign) that tells us more about the referent shown in a noun. Examples of adjectives include OLD (“I have an old house”). 

Adverbs an adverb is a word (or sign) that tells us more about the action shown by the verb. Examples of adverbs include SLOWLY (“he opened the door slowly”), OFTEN (“he went to the Deaf Club often”) and CHEERFULLY (“she waved cheerfully”).

Affirmation: the opposite of negation. This is when a signer may stress they are signing is true or accurate, by nodding while producing signs, for example.

Agreement Verbs – Verbs that use “grammatical” space to show person and number. The main aim of agreement verbs is to tell us “who” did the action and to whom it happened. They have similar meanings in that they all involve some sort of “transfer” of something from one person to another (either real or as a metaphor).

Three types of verbs video

Plain Verbs – Love, run, think, swim – do not move through space to show grammatical information. They may be attached to the body (body anchored) such as ‘like’ or produced in the signing space, such as ‘swim’

Agreement Verbs/directional verb – Ask, give, telephone – verbs that move into syntactic space to show grammatical agreement with another person. A single sign contains information about who is doing what to whom as well as how many people are involved.

Spatial verbs – Run downstairs, drive to, open – Verbs that use topographic space. The signs change depending on what you are signing about. For example there are lots of different signs for ‘open’ – open a door, open a jar, open the window – the sign changes depending on what you are opening. They are also known as classifier verbs because this kind of verb always has a classifier.

Ambiguity: when language does not clearly convey its specific meaning, and a number of different ways to understand a sign or a sentence are possible

Arbitrary By arbitrary we mean that there is no relationship between the referent and its symbol except convention. The words luch, emmesse, nezumi, llygoden, souris and ratoare all arbitrarily applied through convention by different languages to do the job done by the English word mouse .

Aspect Aspect refers to the internal timing of an event. It tells us, for example, how long the event went on for, if it is complete, if it was interrupted, if it is still in progress or if it happened while another event happened at the same time.

Auxiliaries: these are grammatical morphemes that occur with a verb, such as CAN, WILL, SHOULD or FINISH (‘bin’). 

Body part classifiers Handshapes or other elements that show body parts by representing those body parts e.g. EARS-TWITCHING, or DUCK-FEET-WALKING

Borrowing May be simply defined as “linguistic forms being taken by one language from another”.

Bound Morphemes Morphemes that cannot be used unless they are with another morpheme (they are usually GRAMMATICAL MORPHEMES).

List buoys These may be used to list or enumerate what the signer is talking about. They are made on the non-dominant hand and (according to Scott Liddell) “help guide the discourse by serving as conceptual landmarks as the discourse continues”. For example, you may want to talk about four countries you would like to visit and say why. You could list THAILAND, BRAZIL, CANADA and WALES, one on each finger.

Citation Form The “dictionary” form of a sign, as it would be used out of context and with no additional morphemes.

Classifier A classifier is a part of the language that indicates the class to which a referent belongs (especially the class of things according to the shape)

Classifier Handshapes The handshape in a SPATIAL VERB tells us the class of the subject and it represents the whole of the thing or person involved in the action shown by the verb .

Classifier Predicates May include whole entity classifiers, body-part classifiers, size and shape specifiers and handling classifiers.

Cohesion: cohesion refers to the features of vocabulary and grammar that link different parts of story, lecture or conversation together

Colloquial(-ism): a word/sign or expression used in informal situations but which might be avoided in more formal situations

Compound Signs Signs that are made up of two (or more) free morphemes, for example MOTHER^FATHER (“parents”), SEE^MAYBE (“check”) or SAY^TRUE (“promise”).

Conditional A conditional sentence is one that communicates what will happen if a particular situation arises. For example, I-F RAIN, PARTY CANCEL (“If it rains, the party will be cancelled”).

Context: the linguistic environment and real word situation in which a word, sign or expression is used.

Conventionalised means that the members of the language community have agreed that they will use a particular symbol for a particular referent.

Cued Speech In Cued Speech, hand configurations are made near the mouth, to identify different speech sounds which look the same (e.g. /p/, /b/ and /m/ or /k/ and /g/)

Derivational Morphemes These are grammatical morphemes whose job is to make new words or signs


Ego verbs Agreement verbs that will not easily inflect for third person or for number. For example, EXPLAIN, can show 1st person to 2nd or 3rd person, and 2nd or 3rd person to 1st person, but not 2nd to 3rd, and it usually will not show anything other than singular number. 


Established Signs Established signs are recognised as items within the language’s vocabulary. They have less need to be strongly visually-motivated than PRODUCTIVE SIGNS.


Language-external changes This is when a sign or vocabulary changes due to something new in society; perhaps a technological change or some new technology comes out. A sign may be changed or a new one may be created.

Fingerspelling This is the manual alphabet that shows how a word is spelt. If there is no sign for an English word, it would be fingerspelt.


Free Morphemes Free morphemes can also be called lexical morphemes. This is a sign or a word that can stand-alone. It does not have to be bound to another word or morpheme.



Grammatical Morpheme This is a morpheme that has a grammatical meaning, such as the sign WHY. It is different from a lexical morpheme, such as the sign SISTER. Grammatical morphemes include pronouns, conjunctions, prepositions and question words, for example.

Handling Classifiers This shows how you handle things. For example, using a needle and sowing, or how you hold a spoon.



Indexical Signs This is associated with pointing to things. 


Inflectional Morphology This is morphology used for signalling grammatical information. A sign may stay the same but you can make changes, which adds more information and alters the meaning. For example, the sign ASK. If you sign ‘ASK’ once, it means you are asking one person, if you repeat the sign then two people have been asked. If the sign is repeated up to 3 times, or moves from left to right (or right to left) in the signing space then it shows more than 2 people have been asked. The sign is the same but is inflected to show grammatical information about number.

Language-internal Changes When there are new signs introduced to the language, usually after a time they are changed. This is not forced but occurs naturally. The sign changes to suit the phonological rules of a given language and often find that the rest of the community has also changed the sign so it matches phonological rules and is more ‘comfortable’ to produce. Example; EURO. At first the sign for EURO didn’t feel right and didn’t match BSL’s phonological rules. When it was changed, it was more appropriate and felt more comfortable. 

Internal Movement This is when only the fingers move in a sign and not the hands. Examples, ORANGE and ONE-MORE.


Intonation or prosody

Lexical Morphemes A word or sign that has a lexical, not a grammatical meaning, such as the sign SISTER. These include noun, verb, adjectives, and adverbs. 


Loan Translation This is when there are two languages and one takes the form of a word or sign in another language and translates it directly into the other language. For example, the sign MANCHESTER, some people may sign MAN + CHEST (rep) to mean MANCHESTER. This is an example of loan translation. Another example, some would sign BOOT to mean the shop ‘Boots’.

Location This is where a sign is articulated. It could be somewhere in the signing space off the body. It could be somewhere on the body, on the face – where on the face or lower down on the body. Also, if a sign is articulated on the hand, need to identify where – on the palm or on the back of the hand.

Manner This is used to describe and action or an event. It shows additional information. For example, the sign WRITE can be inflected to show extra meaning such as to show writing fast.

Manual Alphabet This is fingerspelling. BSL uses the English 26 letter alphabet and translates it manually through fingerspelling.


Minimal Pairs This shows two similar signs, and there is only one phonological difference. For example, NAME and AFTERNOON – there is only one phonological difference and that is the location of the sign. NAME is articulated on the forehead and AFTERNOON is articulated on the chin.

Minority Language When there is a dominant language that most of the population uses, there are also minority languages which some members of the population uses – languages that belong to specific communities.



Monomorphemic This is when a sign that has only one morpheme. There are no additional information or inflections.

Name Signs











Regional Sign Variation (RSV)


Role shift




Simultaneity Two linguistic morphemes are signed at the same time

Situation The setting regarding to any topic i.e. at work in a college you have team meetings

Size and shape specifiers is one of classifier predicates  – including showing the extent of something – e.g. – LARGE-BOX, THIN-TIE

Speed In BSL the speed of signing is dependent on the BSL user presenting or conversing with another BSL user and the level of understanding. Speed can be shown when using adverbs. 

Structures BSL has its own structure and grammar. BSL grammar is structured differently compared to other languages, which it uses a different concept, of  Time-frame then Topic then Action or a Comment.  

Style When you use BSL, depending on situations you adopt a certain certain e.g. formal or informal signing style

[AS1] Why not give sign examples here? The signs SISTER, WILL, and WHY are arbitrary signs, for example. 

[AS2] This is a list buoy. There are other types of buoys. For example, a fragment buoy is when your non-dominant hand keeps producing the previous sign while your dominant hand moves onto the next one.

[AS3] Note that we don’t use plain, agreement, and spatial verb in our work on BSL linguistics these days. We use plain, indicating/directional, and depicting verbs.

[AS4] Classifier handshapes refer to the handshape only. The sign that includes a classifier sign may be called a classifier predicate/construction/verb/sign. But we call them depicting signs in our work. 

[AS5] I’ve never heard this term used in linguistics, although I understand what it refers to. We don’t have agreed on terms for the different subclasses of indicating/directional verbs in our work. 

[AS6] Not really a linguistic term?