What are timelines in BSL? Timelines are used in BSL to show when something will happen or has happened – they act like tenses in English. There are 5 timelines that show when an action will or has taken place. The timelines are shown on different areas of the body. Read the list below to gain a better understanding of how timelines work in BSL.
In English, to show past tense or future tense, you can modify a verb e.g. I worked or I will be working. In BSL, tenses work differently – you need to show when an action will happen or has happened.
Timeline A: from the back of the shoulder to chin to front/ visa versa – past to future
Making a backwards over your shoulder will indicate events happened in the past. Equally, forward movements indicates future events.
Timeline B: Along the arm – recently (i.e. last week, next week)
From the elbow to the wrist indicates the most recent future. It can be in 1 week’s time or you can add numbers on the moving hand to indicates how many weeks into the future. for example, if you show the number 3 and move it along your arm that would mean something is happening in 3 weeks time.
Indicating from the wrist to the elbow will show you are talking about the recent past. The same number rule applies – if you show 2 on the hand moving along the arm, you would be saying that an event happened 2 weeks ago.
Timeline C: An imaginary line made across the body e.g. journey, events, placement
An imaginary line across your chest is used to show events along a linear timeline e.g. from the year 1923 to 2023
Timeline D: low to high at the side of the body e.g. height, growth, age, life, child age related to now
Signing from the hip and raising your flat hand up to head height shows your lifetime timeline (from childhood to adulthood). It represents the continuing growth timeline. It can be used for anything that grows in height over time. It is mostly used for plants, trees and animals.
Timeline E: front of the body going forward e.g. possible events that are going to happen/may happen
From the chest to out in front of you is used to indicate present day to some point in the future.
Eye gaze in BSL timelines
Eye gaze can also be used to indicate when something happened. For example, looking down and to the side can indicate the past, looking ahead or down can indicate the present and looking up can indicate the future.
Signs to mark timelines in BSL
You can also mark time by using additional BSL signs that can can be translated as:
WILL – refers to the future
NOW – refers to something happening in the present
FINISH/BEEN – refers to something that happened in the past
Expert’s tip: Don’t forget! Facial expressions are also used to show how long ago something happened
Other words associated with timelines in BSL include:
Other BSL Timeline resources:
Timelines are a language feature that clearly show the difference between English and a signed language.
If you want to practice timeline sentences, you can look at Sign Right and Minna from SignHow who both have videos on YouTube. The videos give examples of timeline sentences. Minna also explains the importance of facial expressions when explaining how long ago something happened.
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