Fundamental principles for performing the signs

In Paget Gorman Signed Speech each word selected for inclusion in the vocabulary has its own sign, and these signs are presented in the same sequence as the words in the phrase or sentence to be signed. This system differs from other sign languages used by deaf people in that it is not based on finger-spelling, which, whether one-handed or two-handed can vary from country to country. Finger-spelling may of course be used as an alternative to conventional or arbitrary signs for proper names.

Sometimes a word has more than one meaning, so where necessary, separate signs have been evolved for the most usual meanings; thus the word `box' has two signs, one in the sense of ‘to fight' and the other in the sense of  ‘container'.

Accurate signing is essential, being equivalent to good pronunciation in speech. It is also desirable to maintain the natural rhythms of speech while signing. The instructions for performing the signs ensure that the signer's mouth is only very occasionally momentarily hidden, so that deaf people can lipread the signer at the same time as reading the sign. Changes of facial expression, though not essential with signing, may be used in moderation in the same way that hearing people make slight changes in the tone of voice to indicate change of emotion.

All the signs are based on certain Standard Hand Postures which are used in the instructions for performing each sign. These hand postures are held or moved in any position, according to the instructions, so long as the actual posture of the hand is not altered.

Wherever possible, words with a common theme are grouped together and each such group has its own Basic Sign; each word in that group makes use of the Basic Sign for the group, together with an identifying gesture made simultaneously with the other hand when so directed. At present there are 37 Basic Signs, but additional ones may be created when necessary.

The formation of the plural and possessive forms of nouns, the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, affixes, punctuation marks and geometrical figures, parts of the body and the five senses are made with the help of special signs known as Functional Signs. These are fully described in this Introduction.

When reading instructions for performing the signs the following points should be remembered by the signer:

(1) Height
Read more

The majority of signs are made at mid-height (i.e. midway between waist-level and neck-level of the signer), and with the hand or hands held at one hand-length in front of the centre of the body, always using the lower knuckle of the 1st finger as the point of reference unless directed otherwise in the instructions. Thus when the hand is held ‘in front of other shoulder', ‘at eye-level', ‘in line with own side', etc., the lower knuckle of the 1st finger of the hand in use is aligned with that part of the signer's body.

When either hand is held above the other hand or above the wrist, forearm etc., the centre of the palm or back or side of the hand is the point of reference, unless another part of the hand is specifically mentioned - e.g. ‘tip of its 1f.', `tips of its ds.' etc.
Signs are never made below waist-level, nor at more than one hand length above the head.
All signs can be made with either hand except when otherwise stated in the instructions.

Basic Signs, performed on their own, must be made exactly as given in the instructions for the sign, but when a Basic Sign, made ‘in line with own side',’`in front of own shoulder', or ‘at waist-level' is incorporated in a two-handed sign, the hand performing that sign may be moved to a more central position.

(2) Fingers
Read more

The terms ‘fingers forward’, ‘fingers inward’ etc., as distinct from ‘fingers pointing forward’, ‘fingers pointing inward' etc., mean that if the hand were to be opened to FLAT hand without changing its position in relation to the body, the fingers would then point in that direction. (See Diagrams 1 & 2 on p.viii).

(3) Side
Read more

The term ‘side' refers to the side of the body in a vertical line from the shoulder down to waist-level.

(4) Own / Other
Read more

The term ‘own' is used to identify the side of the body, shoulder, etc. which belongs to the same half of the body as the hand in use. Similarly the term ‘other' refers to the side of the body which is in the opposite half to that belonging to the hand in use.    

(5) Digits
Read more

The term ‘digits' includes the thumb as well as the four fingers.

(6) Timing
Read more

The phrase ‘at same time' indicates that two different actions are occurring simultaneously, either with one hand alone, or with both hands. When both hands are involved at the same time, they are held quite independently of each other.

(7) Slide
Read more

The term ‘slide' is used to denote movements when a part of the hand is moved against the other hand or against some other part of the body.

(8) Vibrate
Read more

The term ‘vibrate' is used to describe a rapid horizontal or vertical movement of the forearm and hand in which the hand does not move more than a finger-breadth to either side of its original position. This term is only used in signs for liquids (eg. water, blood, soup etc.).

(9) Shake
Read more

The term ‘shake' is used to describe a slower, more deliberate sideways movement, often performed by wrist-action. The hand is moved a handbreadth or half a handbreadth from its original position and the size of the movement is given in the instructions. The term ‘sideways' is usually used because the nature of the sign makes it difficult to give the precise direction of the movement.

(10) Direction
Read more

Movements are usually made in a straight line, either
a) vertical, which are described as ‘upwards' or ‘downwards', or
b) horizontal, which are described as forwards, ‘’backwards', ‘inwards' or ‘outwards'. An ‘inward movement is one in which the hand moves in a sideways direction as if from its own side to the other side of the body. An ‘outward' movement is one in which the hand moves in the same direction as if from the other side to its own side of the body. When both hands are held and moved together to one side or the other, the term ‘sideways' is used to describe the movement.
c) diagonal, which are described as ‘forward-inwards', ‘forward-outwards', ‘inward-upwards' etc. (i.e. the movements are halfway between forward and `inward, forward' and `outward', `inward and ‘upward', etc.). (See Diagrams 3,4 & 5 on p. x; for circles and semicircles see Diagram 6 on p. xi).

(11) Hold hand as
Read more

The term ‘Hold hand as    ' is used when there is no variation from the original instruction and ‘Hold hand as for    ' is used to describe only the first position of a moving sign, which for this particular sign, remains stationary.

(12) Punctuation
Read more

The punctuation of the signs has a special significance. When any sign contains instructions for a movement of the hand or hands, the instruction for the movement is preceded by a description of the hand or hands and a semi-colon(;). If the movement is to be repeated it is followed by a colon(:) and the words ‘return to original position and repeat action'. The hand or hands are returned to the position as described before the semi-colon(;) and the action between the semi-colon(;) and colon(:) is repeated.

(13) Opp / Cf / Also for
Read more

a) The indication of an antonym whose sign is performed in an opposite or reversed manner is denoted in the phrase ‘[Opp. of ]' which is placed after the instruction itself, in the bottom left-hand comer. It should be noted that '[Opp. of ]' refers to the actual performance of the sign and not the meaning.
    b) The indication of signs which could be confused with the original sign if not carefully performed is denoted in the phrase ‘[Cf……]’ which is placed after the instruction itself in the bottom right-hand comer.
    c) The indication of words with a similar meaning which have been given the same sign for the time being is denoted in the phrase  ‘[Also for …… ]' which is placed in the centre of the line after the instruction itself.


Every sign is described in such a way that the signer knows exactly how to hold the hand(s). Two instructions are always given so that the hand is held the right way up and is facing or pointing in the right direction.

There are three (3) possible instructions, but only two of them are ever used together to describe the hand.

a) Direction of the back or palm of the hand
p.upwd    - palm upward            p.outwd        - palm outward
p.upwd-inwd    - palm upward-inward etc.        b.fwd-outwd    - back forward-outward
b.fwd    - back forward etc.
b) Direction in which the fingers (fs) face
In this connection the fingers (fs) must be thought of as the lower knuckles, or as the part of the hand between the lower and mid knuckles of all 4 fingers. When the instructions say, fs fwd, Ys fwd-inwd, Xs upwd'l etc.., this part of the hand must face in that direction. If the hand was to be opened out to a FLAT hand from its original posture, the fingers would point in that direction.

FOR EXAMPLE: - CLOSED h., b. upwd & fs fwd-inwd

Diagram 1                   

When this hand is opened to FLAT h., all the fingers and the thumb (they are described as digits (ds) in the Manual) will point fwd-inwd.

 Diagram 2

c)    Direction in which the fingers or digits point

The instructions 'ds ptg fwd, inwd, upwd etc.,' or  '1f ptg, 2f ptg, th & 1f ptg, fs ptg etc.' are used in the description of the standard hand postures such as Th, 1f hand, COMPRESSED hand, U-hand etc. where these fingers or digits are extended straight anyway. These instructions are used instead of instructions for p, b or fs, but are always used with either one of them.

Diagram 3
A view looking down on the Signer's hand
(This is for a right-handed Signer, for left-handed Signers inwds and outwds are reversed)

Horizontally fwd-inwds - diagonally inwards
Horizontally fwd-outwds - diagonally outwards
Horizontally bkwd-outwds - diagonally backwards

DIAGRAM  [ 4 ]

(This is for a right-handed signer)


fwd-upwds - diagonally forwards and upwards
inwd-upwds - diagonally inwards and upwards

(This is for a right-handed signer)

To help you to sign CIRCLES and SEMICIRCLES.
Two directions for the movements of the hand are given. The following diagrams show which way round the circle or semicircle to go. S marks the starting point on the circumference.

HORIZONTAL CIRCLES and SEMICIRCLES (You are looking down on your hand and the diagrams do not show the complete circle).


The signer is using either h. The circles are sideways on to the signer.


Help us by sharing this post
  • E-mail this story to a friend!
  • Tweet this
  • Facebook
  • StumbleUpon
  • Digg
  • Google
  • LinkedIn