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American Sign Language: "Lexicalized Classifiers"

Lexical means "of or pertaining to the words or vocabulary of a language."

The word "lexicalized" means "to have become like a word."  (Source:

In sign language lexicalized means to be produced like a "sign."

Two common examples of this include:

1: A Fingerspelled word that has mutated to look and be produced more like a sign rather than typical fingerspelling.

2:  Former classifiers that have been produced so frequently and used so widely that they have frozen into commonly recognized signs.


Student:  What else is lexicalized? Is there such a thing as a lexicalized facial expression?

Dr. Bill:  Great question!  A case could probably be made that certain facial expressions are commonly recognized as consistently carrying a specific meaning.  The "I'm so shocked!" facial expression is a possible example.

Mouth morphemes could be considered "lexicalized mouth movements."
The mouth morpheme "PAH!" is commonly accepted to mean "Finally, at last, success!"  Interestingly, many people recognize that mouth movement independent of its typically accompanying sign "SUCCESS-(finally)"?  If people do recognize the mouthing of PAH! independent of the hand movements then it seems fair to label "PAH!" as a lexicalized facial expression.

It is also very common to see some Deaf mouth a certain swear word while using a head-thrust. It functions very much like a "sign" even though it doesn't rely on hand movements.   The combination is widely recognized and commonly understood.  Thus it seems reasonable to consider it a lexicalized "something" but I won't be so bold as to suggest a label.


Nodding "yes" and/or shaking your head "no" could be considered "lexicalized head movements."


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