Glossing system used for Jewish services

David Bar-Tzur

Key to abbreviations and symbols (Cokely-Baker2 & Bar-Tzur)

sign is swept to the right, as if performing the action for everyone (on everything) at the same time
alternating, that is executed by DH, then NDH, then DH
hands behave like the opposite of a mirror image (as in GO)
[As]3As handshape illustrated
the A handshape but the thumb is tucked against the index finger
away from signer, as in PO away
not the palm, but the other side of the hand
[B]3B handshape illustrated
the B handshape but the thumb is not tucked into the palm, as in SCHOOL
[B^]1B^ handshape illustrated
the handshape is modified so that fingers are held at 90º angle to palm, as in EQUAL as illustrated with one hand in this entry
[Bb^] or [B||]
is the handshape for MEETING when it is halfway closed
[Bb]1Bb handshape illustrated
the B handshape with the thumb tucked into the palm as in TROUBLE or WORRY
the C handshape with only the thumb and index fingers extended and curled
[bO]3bO handshape illustrated
the O handshape with only the thumb and index fingers extended and curled, called "baby O", as in EXACT
lips are vibrated as a cold person may when she says "Brr!"
thumb is placed over the middle joint of [X] as in some variants of CONTROL
circle in
The circular direction that is opposite to “circle out” (which see). Clockwise and counterclockwise depend on how you look at the hand and are vague terms.
circle out
The circular direction that the fingers curl in (for whichever hand is moving), if the thumb points straight out like an extension of the arm. Clockwise and counterclockwise depend on how you look at the hand and are vague terms.
fingertips of dominant hand
dominant hand
dominant side
sign is repeated while moving to the right
flick index finger1initial position of [flick index finger] handshape illustratedfinal position of [flick index finger] handshape illustrated
The second picture has the PO wrong, but you get the idea; as in UNDERSTAND
fingertip orientation (if fingers were extended)
[horns]1[horns] handshape illustrated
handshape where the index and pinky fingers are extended, as in MOCK
sign this with NDH
any underlined pronoun uses the honorific index, that is, [B], PO up, FO > the thing to be honored, and sweeps down a little for the singular form and across for the plural.
fingertips of non-dominant hand
non-dominant hand
non-dominant side
open 8
the handshape for the sign FEEL
"over time"
sign is repeated with circular motion to show action happens over a long time period, at least psychologically
palm orientation
hand is twisted so that PO is down or away from the signer
(role play)
turn body slightly to show that the signer is taking on the role of a person in the story and quoting her/him directly
possesive, that is the [B], PO towards whatever is being referenced
"step by step"
sign is executed slowy in several small steps
hands is twisted so that PO is up or towards the signer
hands behave as in a mirror image (as in the sign SEPARATE)
VERB-TO-me, us
The sign whic normally moves away from the signer, moves towards the signer to show the action is happening to "me" or "us"; an example being HAVE-MERCY-ON-us, which as the sign usually glossed PITY, moves towards the signer and not away
the tongue sticks out slightly while the mouth forms the phoneme "th", showing carelessness or inattentiveness to detail or rightness
[V:]1V: handshape illustrated
the colon means curl the fingertips of the handshape, as in BLIND
wiggle fingers
a letter or number inside brackets indicates handshape
[X dot]
handshape is modified by extending thumb
the handshape is modified so that fingers are held at 90º angle to palm, as in B^-CL
first handshape is for NDH, second is for DH, as in "leak from hole": F,4-CL
first handshape becomes second handshape as in "disappear into the distance": G>bO-CL
one hand is used instead of the usual two-handed sign
1x, 2x, 3x
once, twice, three times (sometimes notated x1, x2, x3); used instead of + when sign is usually produced twice, but now once (or vice versa), or in descriptions that do not use the gloss, so there is no sign to add + to
both hands have the same handshape or the usual one-handed sign is produced with both hands
[5:]15: handshape illustrated
the colon means curl the fingertips of the handshape
[5^]3B^ handshape illustrated
the carot (^) means bend the fingers at the knuckles, but keep them straight as in the final position of SUNSHINE
at, as in "brain surgery": PERFORM-SURGERY@temple
The fingertips are curles as in [5:] for ANGRY
lexicalized fingerspelling (previously called fingerspelled loan sign)
sign is executed with a single, short, forceful movement
towards, as in > DS; without further explanation
face each other, as in POs ><
the handshape is modified so that fingers are held at 90º angle to palm, as in B^-CL
it combines sign descriptions with sign glosses to avoid confusstion as in "missionary": [M], FO > DS, circles heart + AGENT.
sign is repeated while moving in direction indicated: as in +-> DS, +-up, +-down, +-away, +-towards
The two signs are blended together smoothly
(<) GLOSS1, (>) GLOSS2
sway body to NDS and sign GLOSS1, then sway body to DS and sign GLOSS2

Glossing techniques (Cokely-Baker)

  1. Vocabulary items are listed with the English term uncapitalized, a colon, and the gloss in bolded upper case letters.
  2. Initialized signs are indicated by the substituted handshape, a dash, and the base sign. Again this assumes that the gloss for the base sign is known to the target audience.
  3. Fingerspelled vocabulary is treated the same as vocabulary that has a sign and is indicated by bolded upper case letters separated by dashes. A single fingerspelled letter is enclosed in quotes.
  4. More context for the vocabulary item is provided by additional words in parentheses.
  5. Signs that are generated by repetition of base signs, are indicated with a plus sign.
  6. Signs that are blends of other signs can be represented by a tilda (~).
  7. If a sign uses parts of the body as a direct object, the sign is followed by a dash and the body part described in lower case letters.
  8. If spatialization and directionality are used, lf, rt, ctr can be used for "left", "right", and "center".

More detailed description (Cokely-Baker, Bar-Tzur)

For signs that can not be related to signs that have a standard gloss, a more complex system is used.

  1. If the sign is two-handed and the handshapes are the same, (2h) is used and then the handshape is enclosed in square brackets.
  2. If two-handed, but the handshapes are different, DH (dominant hand) is used, indicating the handshape, later listing NDH (non-dominant hand). NDH may be omitted since the other handshape must now be on the NDH.
  3. Palm orientations are specified: PO up, PO down, PO > NDS (non- dominant), PO > DS (dominant), PO towards (towards signer), PO away (away from signer), POs >< (palms face each other).
  4. FO specifies fingertip orientation, similarly to PO. Remember FO is defined in linguistics as the direction the fingertips would point if they were extended, not based on a closed HS.
  5. If handshapes are used as classifiers, information showing how the classifier moves is described in single quotes.
  6. If the NDH stays in place from a previous sign while the DH continues a new sign, a dashed arrow can show the duration of the hold.


1. ASL University: Handshapes

2. As described in Baker-Shenk, C. & D. Cokely (1991). Clerc. ISBN 093032384X.

3. Türk İşaret Dili.