BSL is a visual language that uses handshapes (manual signs) instead of the spoken word. But non-manual features (NMFs) are also a very important part of BSL.
Non-manual features include:
Movement of the head, shoulders and trunk
In spoken languages we change the tone of our voice to add extra meaning, for example to ask questions and to show emotions. In BSL we use non-manual features for the same purpose and to give clarity, richness and additional meaning to signs.
Watch Kathleen’s facial expressions in the following film clip.
Non-manual features can change the meaning of a sign and can show AFFIRMATION or NEGATION.
Watch how Kathleen’s facial expression, mouth shape and body movement can change the meaning of a sentence which uses the same manual signs
In BSL when asking a question your eyebrows tend to be lowered/furrowed/ in a frown/puzzled with your head tilted forward especially when you are asking a wh- question, WHERE, WHEN, HOW, WHY, WHAT, WHO.
In BSL the wh – word usually comes at the end of the sentence.
Below you can use your webcam to practice signing these wh- words with your eyebrows furrowed. Please click on the ‘ALLOW’ button below to open your webcam.
Watch Kathleen’s facial expression, especially her eye brows and the position of her head and shoulder when she asks the questions.
When asking a question that needs a YES/NO answer your eyebrows tend to be raised
Watch Kathleen’s facial expression, especially her eye brows and the position of her head and shoulder when she asks the questions. Look for affirmation or negation in Paul’s reply.
Remember Kathleen is a right-handed signer, so her right hand will be dominant but Paul is a left-handed signer so his left hand will be dominant.
Now try the question or statement exercise below
Manner and Degree
Facial expression can also give extra information about adverbs and adjectives. E.g. puffed cheeks indicate large or difficult or going on for a long time, sucked in cheeks indicate small, few or thin. A relaxed mouth making ‘mm’ shape indicate easy or average. A tense ‘mm’ mouth indicates exact, firm, determined.
Watch how Paul’s facial expressions can change the meaning of signs.