Five Parameters of SASL


The five parameters(elements) of South African Sign Language (SASL), is similar to "phonology" in spoken language.
◦Signs consists of one or more of the five parameters that make up each sign.
◦These parameters are handshape, location, palm orientation, movement, and non-manual features.
◦The smallest element of a sign is a parameter.
◦If one of these parameters are changed when forming a sign, the meaning of the sign almost always changes.
◦Every sign in Sign Language has at least one of the following parameters.

1. Handshape
◦"Handshape" refers to the shape(s) your hand or hands take when a sign is formed.
◦ Sometimes the handshape stays the same throughout the sign, and sometimes it changes.
◦ A sign can consist of more than one handshape.

 Below is an extensive list of most handshapes used in South African Sign Language.

Handshapes in parameters of sign

2. Palm Orientation
◦"Palm orientation" refers to the direction the palm face when making a sign.
◦The palms, whether hidden or visible will always face in a direction, but with the help of parameter 4, movement, it can change direction.
◦The palms can show upwards, downwards, sideways, forward or backwards, in some signs have a palm facing diagonally.


3. Location
◦The "location" is the place in the signing space where a sign is formed, either touching a body part or not touching anything.
◦Rarely can the location be outside the signing space.

The signing space is usually from the waist to just above the head as illustrated in the picture below:

 Signing space in parameters of sign

Below are more locations where signs can start or end at:





Location in parameters of sign


4. Movement
◦  "Movement" refers to the direction in which the handshape moves when forming a sign.
◦  Direction, speed and repetition can become part of the movement.
◦  When creating a sign, the handshape can have movement or no movement at all.


5. Non-Manual Features (Sometimes refer to as Non-Manual Markers or NMF)
◦To make it easy, just think about body language.

◦Facial expressions are important to convey an emotion or message, and so are body language.
◦The way you lean or stand with your body will also convey a message.
◦Non-Manual Features (NMF) help amplifies or negates the sign or the message.
◦Non-manual features can be produced by any part of the body other than the hands.

So the next time you think about a sign, try and see if you can identify these parameters.