pointing in british sign language

What is pointing in Sign Language?

Pointing in Sign Language is not rude, it is part of the language and is used to show various linguistic features. It is used to place people, objects and animals in space and time. Pointing also helps to clarify who is being referred to in a conversation.

Most beginners avoid pointing because we are taught from a young age not to point! We perceive it as rude and it takes a long time to understand that pointing is essential in BSL. In fact, if you don’t point when signing, it makes conversations confusing and makes understanding a deaf person really difficult (because they use pointing all the time).

Pointing can be used to place people in the real world or in a ‘fake’ world e.g. showing the difference between the ‘deaf world’ and the ‘hearing world’.

When placing people in the real world, pointing might be used to refer to someone who usually sits in a particular place e.g. in a classroom. If a classmate is missing, you might refer to the space where they usually sit.

Tips for using pointing in BSL correctly:

Point with a straight, firm index finger.  You can’t make yourself clear if your finger is bent or limp. 

Pointing should not be done too close or too far from the body.  The arm is only stretched out when your pointing is for emphasis or to get attention at a distance.

Deaf people do not mind being pointed at, but if you point at someone who is looking at you, you should be prepared to explain why you are pointing at them.

Pointing is also used to refer to people or things that are not in sight.  By paying close attention to the pointing movement, including the signer’s use of eye gaze, you will learn to recognise the way pointing works in BSL.

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