What notation do constructed sign languages use?
Many well-known big sign languages (such as ASL) have their own form of notation, but that notation is very specific and may not be able to express a sign in other sign languages. For example, ASL school is

OpenB@Palm-PalmDown-OpenB@CenterChesthigh-PalmUp Contact Contact

but some constructed sign language X might require signals that don't appear in ASL, like 'touch your elbow with the thumb of your non-dominant hand'. The notation could be extended but would be complicating it. Language X thus requires its own system for its own signs or an 'international' one in analogy with the International Phonetic Alphabet.

What are the notations commonly used by constructed sign languages?
Which sign languages use them?

  • 1
    I'm not aware of any existing Sign conlangs which use SignWriting, but it does look far more intuitive than SLIPA.
    – TRiG
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:54
  • Hmm... looking into it.
    – Duncan
    Apr 3, 2018 at 14:55
  • On the SLIPA page, SignWriting is discussed and it has some significant drawbacks. Apr 7, 2018 at 16:18
  • This concept is not in general use among the broader conlanging community, but the basics of the system I use for notating my own con-sign-language are described at gliese1337.blogspot.com/2016/09/… Apr 9, 2018 at 4:10
  • @Adarain. SignWriting is now (partially) supported in Unicode.
    – TRiG
    Apr 25, 2018 at 22:01

2 Answers 2


There are very few constructed sign languages. On the subreddit, we sometimes get questions about whether anyone has made any, which usually don’t get many replies. This one here has some examples given, and also links a website which has basically the answer to your actual question:

SLIPA is an attempt by David Peterson to fill the lack of sign language transcription systems. However, due to it being ASCII-compliant, it ends up rather unweildy and I’ve never seen it employed in actuality. Nevertheless, the website provides important information that could be useful for you to derive your own system tailored to your language, and to use as a reference for comparing your own notation to.


The best I've found, for linguistic purposes, is HamNoSys ("Hamburg Notation System", Hanke (2004)). It works like IPA: it is more an instruction-notation than observation-notation. For example; IPA allows glottal stop [ʔ] together with (i.e.) palatal, dental, alveolar and labial fricatives, but these are indistinguishable. Another example: [m͡n] (depending on notation, I'll use x͡y is simultaneously x and y) is [m] + [n] but sounds like plain [n].
This concept continues on in HamNoSys: see this chart, where overlapping segments are indistinguishable but technically doable and thus notatable. According to Millar (2001), it is the most used notation, alongside Stokoe and derivatives.

Also, HamNoSys has programs that convert HamNoSys into imagery and videos.

Hanke, T. (2004), “HamNoSys - representing sign language data in language resources and language processing contexts.” In: Streiter, Oliver, Vettori, Chiara (eds): LREC 2004, Workshop proceedings : Representation and processing of sign languages. Paris : ELRA, 2004, - pp. 1-6.

Miller, C., 2001. Some reflections on the need for a common sign notation. Sign Language and Linguistics. 4(1/2):11-28.

  • 1
    I disagree that simultaneous [m] and [n] sound identical to [m] alone. In fact, the Yele language appears to distinguish not only between [m] and [m͡n], but also between a dental and an alveolar variant of the latter phonemically. Apr 7, 2018 at 16:24
  • While holding them, they sound identical to n. If they don't, [m͡n] is just an approximation. I mean pure synchronic [n] with [m].
    – Duncan
    Apr 7, 2018 at 18:12

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