Fingerspelling – what part does it play in British Sign Language?

Fingerspelling Sheet and words 'Fingerspelling, what part does it play in British Sign Language?"

The British Sign Language (BSL) Fingerspelling manual alphabet uses two hands and was taken from the English alphabet. Some sources say manual alphabets originated in silent religious settings where monks used them to communicate.

They have also been used in Deaf education. These days in BSL, Fingerspelling is used for names of people and places (often then replaced by a sign name once the name has been introduced,) for new technology (as the technology becomes common place a recognised sign will often develop e.g. Ipad,) for medical terms such as medications; and it is also used when the signer does not know or forgets the BSL sign for something.

Fingerspelling tends to be used more by the older generation of BSL signers due to teaching methods in the past, and will be used more in formal situations whereas in relaxed settings the signer might create a sign.

Not all Fingerspelling alphabets are the same, American, Irish and French sign languages all use a 1 handed alphabet; so take care when searching online that the alphabet is BSL.

We introduce Fingerspelling whenever we teach Deaf awareness session to organisations (recently Heathrow and NHS).

You can download our Fingerspelling sheet for free here.