Part 2. Phonology


This is a summary of the phonology content of the GramLSE. Phonology is the level of linguistic analysis whose units are the smallest elements of the language with a contrastive function. These elements do not carry meaning themselves although they can differentiate meaning.

The main articulators of sign languages are the hands. Signs are made up of sub-lexical elements, also known as parameters, such as handshape, orientation, location, movement, and non-manual components. The contrastive function of these elements allows the differentiation of meanings. For example, in Spanish sign language (LSE) the signs for MONDAY and TUESDAY contrast in handshape.

The hand configuration refers to the shape that the hand or hands adopts when articulating a sign, as well as its orientation (Sandler, 1989). The LSE sign HOUSE, for example, is made with this handshape50.png.

Location concerns the body region(s) or the space around the signer where the hands are placed to perform a sign. For example, the LSE sign CUSTOM is located on one cheek. 

Signs also have movement: directional, when the hand moves from one place to another; or internal, when the orientation and/or handshape changes. The LSE sign ARROGANT has a directional movement; the hand moves from the nose to the shoulder. The sign LIGHT has an internal movement because its handshape changes.

There are signs that are made with one hand, such as EAT, and signs that are articulated with both hands, such as THEATER

The signs are also made up of non-manual elements performed with the face, head, body, and shoulders (Muñoz Baell, 1999, p. 153). These non-manuals can also have contrastive value, as in the cases of SWEET and PAIN; these two signs differ in their non-manual elements (Rodríguez González, 1992, p. 195).

The aforementioned sub-lexical elements always appear in the parameter’s classifications of the LSE (as in Herrero Blanco, 2009, or in Gutiérrez-Sigut & Carreiras, 2009), although sometimes more elements have been described (Muñoz Baell, 1999; Rodríguez González, 1992).

Non-manuals, in addition to being a part of the sign, are also very important in prosody. Prosody is the part of phonology that deals with larger units, such as sequences of various signs. In LSE, for example, the non-manuals in a question where one expects a yes or no answer are different from those in a declarative statement. 

                     (raising eyebrows)
Eg. IX"you" CAR SEE ALREADY is different from IX"you" CAR SEE ALREADY.

In other videos in this section of the grammar we will discuss syllables. A syllable is a sequential unit that is usually made up of at least one handshape, one location, and one movement. The sign SILENCE has one syllable (Herrero Blanco, 2009). In addition to the syllable, there are other prosodic units in LSE that we will also cover in GramLSE.

In LSE there are phonological processes that can facilitate both the articulation and the perception of the language. These phonological processes occur because, very often, the sign that comes before or after a certain sign influences the way we sign it. Some signs act on others. The movement of a sign can be reduced or extended; a bimanual sign can be performed with only one hand, etc. In LSE PARENTS it is signed FATHER_MOTHER, but sometimes it can be signed as MOTHER_FATHER when the previous sign is located near the place of articulation of MOTHER, as in SILENCE MOTHER_FATHER.

Villameriel García, S. (2022). Phonology: 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