Area 3. Lexicon


The Spanish sign language (LSE) lexicon is made up of all the signs that an LSE signer knows. Grammars traditionally do not have a section dedicated to the lexicon, but, in the case of sign languages, the lexicon is of great interest and, therefore, in the GramLSE it has its own section. This is a summary of the entire lexicon section.

The lexicon includes information about the form of the signs (how they are articulated), what they refer to (their meaning) and their functions (their grammatical category or part of speech).

In this section we will address what a sign is. We will see, therefore, how to distinguish some signs from others in an utterance. In addition to the sign, there are other units that are sometimes not easy to differentiate with respect to a sign, such as morphemes or syllables.

In LSE lexicon there are native and non-native signs. Non-native signs have their origin in other spoken or signed languages. The sign WITHOUT comes from the spelling of the Spanish word without (sin). The sign LINGUISTICS is a loan from Italian sign language (Valdemoro Fernández-Quevedo, 2002).Native signs have developed naturally, using the linguistic resources of the LSE itself, without the influence of other languages. For example, the sign ASSOCIATION has its origin in the movement that was carried out to collect and put in a box the fees that people paid at the deaf clubs (known as Deaf associations in Spain). It is not always easy to know whether a sign is part of the native or of the non-native lexicon. To know the origin of a sign, it is important to review the dictionaries and records that we have of the LSE.

The native lexicon includes the core and the non-core lexicon. The core or established lexicon usually appears in an LSE dictionary. Each of the signs in the core lexicon is made up of sublexical units, as the ones described in the phonology section. The sign HOUSE, for example, is part of the core lexicon. Signs of the core lexicon might be one- or two-handed. Some signs are simple, and some are compound, etc. A change in one part of a sign usually changes its meaning. The signs POLITICS and THING differ only in the handshape (Rodríguez González, 1992).

The non-core lexicon makes use of the spatial properties of the three-dimensional space. The meaning of the elements from non-core lexicon depends on the context. Examples of non-core lexicon elements are classifiers constructions, pointing, buoys, and simultaneous constructions.  

1)  DOG CL"dog falls with the legs up" (The dog fell with its legs in the air) 

The classifier in 1) refers to dog as DOG has been articulated before that classifier (Morales López et al., 2002). Many non-core lexical items have a very clear visual motivation, which makes their meaning quite transparent in context. Another example of non-core lexicon is pointing, which also adapt to the context (Herrero Blanco, 2009). Thus, the meaning of THERE or HERE depends on the context in which it is being signed.The last part of the lexicon section is devoted to parts of speech, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, determiners, pronouns, adpositions, conjunctions, numerals and quantifiers and other particles, such as those for negation, questions, etc.

Villameriel García, S. (2022). Lexicon: Introduction. In S. Villameriel García (Ed.), Gramática de la Lengua de Signos Española (GramLSE) / Grammar of Spanish Sign Language (GramLSE). Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY, from