"Loan signs" are signs that have been
borrowed from other sign languages.
For example, in American Sign Language it used to be common to
twist an index finger next to the eye to indicate "China." Now,
many people draw an "upside down "L" in the air starting from a
point in front of their left chest area, moving to their right
chest area, and then down. This newer version of the sign was
"borrowed" from Chinese Sign Language. The old sign referred to
the "eyes" of Chinese people and was considered by many to be
inappropriate. The newer sign can be thought of as referring to
their clothing (the buttons on certain clothing or uniform
Typical loan signs are signs that have been borrowed from other
countries. Quite a few loan signs consist of the signs that deaf
people in other countries use to refer to their country. For
example, the loan sign for Japan uses the index and thumb of
each hand to trace a banana shape in the air. This sign looks
somewhat like the shape of Japan. The old sign did a "J" on the
temple near the eyes in reference to the shape of a Japanese
person's eyes. The new sign shows more respect for Japanese Deaf
In a message dated 7/13/2005 2:28:03 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
There's a new phenomena applied in my sign language, Kuwaiti
sign language, and I'm wondering whether it is applied in ASL as
well: Kuwaiti deaf used to sign the States as shooting guns
(similar to FAST sign but with L-hnadshapes) referring to
cowboys. As they discovered that deaf Americans are using a
different one, kuwaitis had borrowed the American sign. Now we
have changed our previous country signs, and replaced it with
the signs the people of a given country practice.
1. Is the same kind of borrowing applied in ASL?!
2. if so, do you have a tendency to borrow signs for presidents
or amirs as well???
Yes, ASL users engage in lexical borrowing from other
countries--particularly for the names of those countries. For
example, we used to sign "Japan" by using a "J" near our eyes in
reference to the shape of the eyes of Japanese people. We now
sign Japan by showing the shape of the country of Japan since
that is the way people who are Deaf in Japan do it.
We used to sign China by twisting an index finger at the corner
of the eye. (Again, referring to the shape of the eyes.) Now we
tend to sign China by pointing to our upper left chest, moving
to the upper right chest area, and then down. Sort of like
drawing a reverse (to the onlooker) "7" an inch or two in front
of our chest.
If I saw a sign used by the people of a country to refer to the
amir of that country I would certainly use it in preference to
whatever sign is currently being used in ASL.
In a message dated 1/10/2007 9:24:05 AM Pacific Standard Time,
Could you please distinguish for me the difference between a
loan sign and a lexicalized fingerspelled word?
Sharon Loveall, M.A.
In the "old days" we used to call fingerspelling that looked like
a sign "loan signs."
Then later most of us stopped calling such fingerspelling "loan" signs
and started calling such fingerspelling "lexicalized
fingerspelling." Which means, "spelling that has taken on the
characteristic of a lexeme." Lexeme is a fancy word that
basically means "word" (or in our case, "a sign.") Thus
lexicalize fingerspelling is a fingerspelled concept that looks
and functions more like a sign than like fingerspelling.
Then we started calling signs that we borrowed from other signed
languages, "loan signs."
So, think of signs borrowed from fingerspelling as being
Think of signs borrowed from other sign languages as being "loan
a message dated 4/21/2011 12:36:12 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
someone writes (minor edits):
Hi Bill, I know you would like me to share about a dispute over
Lifeprint on Loan Signs.
It has to do with whether loan signs are the same as Lexicalized
Fingerspelling. I would really like your 2-cents. I really like
using "Loan Signs" as the term to refer to the signs borrowed
from other countries which is clear to me and students.
Let me know.
[Name on file]
Yes, the phrase "loan sign" is now being used to refer to the
"borrowing of signs from other languages."
"Loan Sign" = A sign borrowed from another language.
Lexicalized fingerspelling = Fingerspelled words that have taken
on the characteristics of a sign.
If Lifeprint says something different from that, let me know
what page and I'll update it.