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"Glossing" is what you call it when you write one language in another. The written information is known as "gloss."

When we see someone signing and we write it down or type it out sign for sign and include various notations to account for the facial and body grammar that goes with the signs--we are "glossing ASL."

When you gloss, you are not trying to interpret a language. Rather you are attempting to transcribe it.  Your goal is to write it down, type it, or otherwise represent it in text form -- word for word.

So, why don't we just call it writing?

The difference between "writing in a language" and "glossing of a language" has to do with the fact that the target language may not have equivalent words to represent the original language.

For example, in American Sign Language (ASL) we have a sign known as "PAH!" Loosely translated it means "At last! Finally! Success! Ta da! Voilą! Presto!) This "sign" requires a plosive sound to be made as if saying "pah!" (Which makes the gloss of PAH! a rather obvious choice.)  ASL also uses special signs known as ASL classifiers that are difficult to write in English. For example, there is a sign that uses a "3-handshape" which is commonly used to represent "vehicles." This sign not only represents a vehicle but it also can include information regarding the location, orientation, speed, direction, and movement path of the vehicle.

This sign is glossed as 3-CL: "additional information goes here." 
Example: 3-CL: "goes uphill"
You might also see a "classifier 3" glossed as "CL-3" or "CL:3."

Glossing allows researchers (and students) to make notes in their own language regarding the second language.  For example, an English-speaking researcher would use gloss to transcribe the "clicks" of the tongue that occur in the Bantu languages of South Africa (such as Zulu).

Below are some conventional (typical / normal)  "glossing" symbols and notation.

ASL Glossing Conventions

"+" When you see a plus symbol it means to repeat the sign.

"!"  When a sign gloss has an "!" exclamation point after it that means you should emphasize the sign. Sign it a bit faster, stronger, or more exaggerated than normal.

"#"  The # symbol, which goes by many names, (number sign, crosshatch character, pound sign, hash, octothorpe, etc.) is used to indicate the lexicalization of a fingerspelled word. (For example: #ALL, #WHAT, #BUSY).  When you "lexicalize" a fingerspelled word, you mutate the spelling so that it is produced more like a sign than a fingerspelled word.

PRO.1  /  PRO.2  /  PRO.3  These terms refer to "first person," "second person," and "third person" pronouns.  PRO.1 means "I or me." PRO.2 means "you."  PRO.3 means "he, she, him, or her." For example, the ASL gloss "PRO.3 LOVE PRO.1" is typically translated as:  "He loves me" or  "She loves me"-- depending on whether the subject is a male or female. You might also see these terms glossed as PRO-1, PRO-2, and PRO-3.

"QM-wiggle" The gloss:  "qm-w" stands for "question mark wiggle." That is the process of holding an "x" hand up at the end of a sentence and wiggling the index finger (flexing it a few times.).

DASHES: When you see dashes between letters, that generally means to fingerspell the word.  Also, sometimes you might see "fs" when someone is writing about ASL. The letters "fs" are sometimes used as a shorthand for "fingerspell."

IX  The "IX" stands for "INDEX." Which means to point toward a certain location, object, or person. 

"CL" When you see a "CL" it generally refers to a "classifier." 3-CL: "additional information goes here." Example: 3-CL: "goes uphill" You might also see a "classifier 3" glossed as "CL-3" or "CL:3."

DASHES: When you see dashes between letters, that generally means to fingerspell the word.  Also, sometimes you might see "fs." The letters "fs" are sometimes used as a shorthand for "fingerspell."  

What is another name for the rules that researchers have generally agreed upon for typical or standard ways to do things? * conventions

What term means choosing an appropriate English word for signs in order to write them down? * Glossing

List some sample conventions of glossing: * Sample 1: small caps, Sample 2: #, Sample 3: M-A-R-Y, Sample 4: _____t

When glossing, what do we represent with small capital letters preceded by the # symbol? * lexicalized fingerspelled words

What do we call the facial expressions that accompany certain signs? * Nonmanual signals (or nonmanual markers, or NMMs)

What kind of features are indicated on a line above sign glosses? * Nonmanual signals and eye gaze

When glossing, what do we use "small capital letters" in English to represent? * Signs

When glossing, what is represented by dashes between small capital letters? * full fingerspellling

What are some glossed examples of lexicalized fingerspellling? * #WHAT, #BURN, #ALL

Note: The GLOSS label of an ASL sign doesn't equal "English." For example, the sign glossed as "FINE" doesn't mean all of the things that the English word "fine" means. I wouldn't use the sign FINE to sign, "I paid the fine for my ticket." The sign glossed as "GLASSES" also means: Gallaudet University, Thomas Gallaudet, and Moses.

Sample gloss: YESTERDAY PRO-1 INDEX-[at] WORK HAPPEN SOMEONE! MAN CL:1-"walked_past_quickly" I NEVER SEE PRO-3 BEFORE.  That sentence would be generally mean: "Yesterday at work a stranger (some guy I've never seen before) rushed past me.

A challenge faced by curriculum writers and ASL teachers when describing how to efficiently sign "What is your name?" -- is how to efficiently gloss the process of signing "NAME" while furrowing your eyebrows to create the concept of "what" non-manually.

(In other words: Use your face not your hands to create the meaning of "what?" and add it to the sign "NAME.")

Classrooms are not real life. Teachers use teacher-talk (or in our case, "teacher-signing") which is analogous (similar) to motherese.

In real life:
Deaf people typically do not sign "YOU WHAT NAME?"

Deaf people typically do not sign "YOU NAME WHAT?"

Deaf people do typically sign "YOU NAME?"-[while furrowing the eyebrows to create the concept of what]

The point here is that if we want ASL students to learn to sign like Deaf people then we need to stop using three signs to do the work of "two signs and a facial expression."

One approach to glossing "What is your name?" while emphasizing the importance of using facial expressions instead of unnecessary signs -- would be to lowercase the word "what" and attach it to the sign NAME.

For example: "YOU what-NAME?" (The lowercase what should not be signed but shown on your face as furrowed eyebrows.)

Or to help emphasize that we don't need to actually sign WHAT -- we could type: "YOU [what]-NAME?"

However, students usually don't take the time to ask "Why is the word 'what' lowercased?"

While there is no perfect approach to writing ASL and indicate the non-manual features in a way that can be typed easily -- an approach would be to gloss "What is your name?" as:
"YOU NAME-[what]?"

That way when students mistakenly choose to add a third sign (WHAT) to the other two signs "YOU NAME" (instead of just efficiently furrowing their eyebrows and not using a separate sign for WHAT) at least they will still be putting the "WH"-question at the end.


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Glossing Instructions

What is Glossing?
Gloss is a written or typed approximation of (or notes regarding) another language. ASL gloss is a written or typed approximation of ASL typically using English words as "labels" for each sign along with various grammatical notes.

The problem with glossing is the student's expectation that this sign means that in English, which is not always the case.  Sometimes one sign can have multiple meanings, and the meaning of that sign is dependent on the context of the sentence or even the surrounding context. 

What's the difference between content and context?

·         Content is the words in the sentence.  It's essentially all the words that are in the "container."

·         Context are the circumstances, the surrounding content, and the meaning behind the content, which are implied outside of that container.

Let's examine that a little bit more.

The sign WAKE-UP can also mean SURPRISE.  The difference in meaning is conveyed in the non-manual markers.

Suppose, the person signs: YESTERDAY MORNING I (WAKE-UP/SURPRISE) 7 O'CLOCK. 

Disregarding the difference in facial expression, let's just take a look at the sign itself.  Which sign makes the most sense in that sentence?  Do most people get a surprise at 7:00 am?  When do we normally get a surprise?  Are we surprised out of bed?  Is someone holding a surprise party in our bedroom?  Most likely not.  The best word for that sentence is WAKE-UP.

Another example: 
Do you like surprise parties or wake-parties?  Which meaning would fit the best?

So, your challenge as the student is to watch the sentences in each of the sentence translation assignment and select the BEST word to match content, as well as the context.


Glossing Conventions

Glossing is a linguistic exercise. For a more in depth look at glossing, read:  ASL Glossing Conventions.

I do not require all those the conventions listed on that page.  Instead we are going to use a much more simplified format.


Uppercase vs Lowercase

The word in UPPERCASE contains the primary meaning/main heading:    SHOW

The word in lowercase tells something about the main heading:   SHOW-me or you-SHOW-me

Notice how there is a hyphen between SHOW and me?  That hyphen connects the object (me) to the verb (SHOW).  And technically if I signed two different words, then I should type SHOW ME

If there is no hyphen, then that means two separate words are being signed here.  But that is not the case for SHOW-me.  The meaning is shown in the movement.


Consider this sentence:  TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL.

In glossing, not including the indexing format, this should read:  TELL-me HOW YOU FEEL.

If you type TELL ME instead of TELL-me, that will be marked wrong.

If you type tell-ME, that is not the correct format and it will be marked wrong.


Incorporating Numbers

Consider the word WEEK

If I type TWO WEEKS (without the hyphen), that means I'm signing two separate words TWO and WEEK.  However, if I type two-WEEK or 2-WEEK, that means that the number is blended into the sign.  If you type TWO WEEKS and 2-WEEKS was signed, that will be marked wrong.


Incorporating tenses

If I type PAST WEEK, that means I'm signing two separate words PAST and WEEK.

But if I type past-WEEK, that means the tense is incorporated into the sign.  If you type PAST WEEK and past-WEEK was signed, that will be marked wrong.


Incorporating repetition

Sign repetition usually means that the event happens more than once.  For example, the concept of working hard or for long periods of time would require repetitive movement:  WORK-hard or WORK++.  Note:  the sign "hard" is not signed at all. It's implied.  The plus sign indicates that the word is being signed more than once and that the meaning changes.  For example:  WORK vs WORK++



This refers to the personal pronouns and pointing towards an object:  For example: he, she, it, they, those, that.

This is where it can get a little complicated.  Not interested in complicated assignments or instructions.  If indexing occurs, you have two choices. You can type out:  INDEX-he or you can use the abbreviation IX (for index). 


·         INDEX-me / IX-me

·         INDEX -you / IX-you

·         INDEX -he (or her or it) / IX-he (or her or it)

·         INDEX -they / IX-they

·         INDEX-we / IX-we

·         INDEX-you all / IX-you all



Let's look at this sentence:  TODAY I NEED GO WORK

In glossing, this should read:  TODAY IX-me NEED GO WORK.

And this sentence:  TELL ME HOW YOU FEEL.

In glossing, not including the indexing format, this should read:  TELL-me HOW IX-you FEEL.



To differentiate between the sign for CAT and the fingerspelled word for CAT, you need to include some dashes.  CAT is the sign.  C-A-T is the fingerspelled word.

For example, this sentence:  MY GRANDPA WORK FARM.

In glossing, this should read MY GRANDPA WORK F-A-R-M.


Lexicalized fingerspelling

This is fingerspelling that has changed over time to take on the characteristics of a sign. A lexicalized fingerspelled word tends to look like and be expressed as a single sign rather than a collection of fingerspelled letters. Some ASL books or articles indicate lexicalized fingerspelling by putting a # symbol in front of the letters. For example: #ALL.

Here's a little bit more on the topic:  Lexicalized Fingerspelling

The fingerspelled word D-O-G is signed with hand up right, palm out.  It's just regular fingerspelling.

The lexicalized fingerspelling of the word #DOG is signed with the palm up. 

For example, this sentence:  WALK DOG, YOU MIND?

In glossing this should read:  WALK #DOG, you-MIND?


Instructions: for the sentence translations:

1.       Each of the sentence translation assignments will contain ten sentences.

2.       Type out the ASL gloss and then the English translation for each sentence

·         ASL: Type the gloss for each sentence in the EXACT order it was signed. All gloss must be in UPPER case and the descriptors in lower case.

·         English: Type the translation of the glossed sentence in proper English. The English translation must be italicized and use sentence case. The sentence MUST make sense.

3.       Spell-check your work.



For example:


ENGLISH:  Ask the student where he lives. 


ASL:   two-WEEK-future SATURDAY IX-you # BUSY?  

ENGLISH:  Are you busy two weeks from now?