sign-lang-msg - 7/31/01


Sign language in the SCA and in period


NOTE: See also the files: disabilities-msg, SCA-SL-art, eyeglasses-msg, cryptography-msg.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at:


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at



Date: 23 May 92

From: ddfr at (david director friedman)


Organization: University of Chicago Computing Organizations


         Sign Language


Cadwan asks about period sign languages. Medieval muslims had a

system of hand signs for numbers. I know about it because Taybugha,

in his 14th c. book on archery, uses them in explaining various hand

positions for releasing the arrow. Also, in the frame story of the

1001 nights, the two princes are up in a tree, there is a sleeping

Djinn down below, and they are communicating by signals with the

beautiful lady standing next to him. It is not entirely clear whether

the signals are a language, or just pointing and making faces.





From: garvey at (Heather L. Garvey)


Subject: Re: Some Random Pennsic Thoughts

Date: 29 Aug 1994 15:16:08 GMT

Organization: Cellular Infrastructure Group, Motorola


Jim Boniface <Neknight at> wrote:

>garvey at (Heather L. Garvey) says:

>>        And hopefully, one day I'll be good enough to interpret at Court

>>someday, thanks to Cedar's wonderful class on SCA-Specific sign language.


> Mi'lady, Could I trouble you to go in a little more detail (in email if

>you wish, or in public) on the SCA-Specific sign language? I've never

>heard of anything like this (Assuming it's not the COMPLETE obvious

>meaning(sign for hold etc)) and I'm quite intrested!


      Most were signs for the various Kingdoms, based on their

heraldry, signs for the various ranks, for various orders, for 'marshal'

'laurel' etc.


      We had a stirring discussion about the different signs for 'herald'

and possibly differentiating between field and 'book' heralds. We also got

a funny story about the sign for 'viscount'. The sign for viscount is

a V at the forehead, moving to a C at the temple (V-C, outlining a

tinhat. :)). Unfortunately, if you get your V pointing the wrong way

(out instead of left), you sign "stupid count"! :-)

      If you like, I can type in the handout she gave us and send it to you,

though it will have the usual limitations of text when learning new signs...


Heather Garvey                     Phone: (708) 632-3790

Motorola Cellular, ITS, Rm 2231     E-mail: garvey at



From: salley at (David Salley)


Subject: Deaf Fighters (was Re: Damn Skaters)

Date: 8 Sep 95 22:00:11 GMT

Organization: Canisius College, Buffalo NY. 14208


> [Hal posting from Dorothy's account....]

> Fighters that can't hear "Hold!" have rather more serious

> problems than rollerbladers.  Indeed, one is tempted to inquire

> if they are authorized and, if so, why?

>     --Hal Ravn

>      (Hal Heydt)


*Ahem!*  I'm sorry, Hal, but you've just pushed one of my buttons.

My SCA "daughter" (mundanely not related) is deaf and she gets this

nonsense told to her all the time.  This is identical to the argument

that the deaf shouldn't drive because they can't hear an ambulance siren.

WRONG!  The deaf have better driving records than the speaking (non-deaf).

They're aware of their disability and are more alert because of it.


Do you _always_ hear the first yelled "Hold!" by a marshal _every_ time?

Or do you start looking around for a marshall when everyone around you

has stopped fighting and dropped to one knee without being struck?


I'm a warrented Marshal at Large in AEthelmearc, and any fighter who's

deaf, blind, one-legged, wheelchaired or what have you is welcome in my

list.  I'm NOT going to tell someone they can't play our game just because

it's a little harder for them to play.


BTW, for all Marshalls:  The ASL (American Sign Language) sign for "Hold!"

is to karate-chop your right hand into your upraised left palm.


                                                       - Dagonell


SCA Persona : Lord Dagonell Collingwood of Emerald Lake, CSC, CK, CTr

Habitat         : East Kingdom, AEthelmearc Principality, Rhydderich Hael Barony

Internet    : salley at  (Please use this, reply may not work.)

USnail-net  : David P. Salley, 136 Shepard Street, Buffalo, New York 14212-2029



Subject: Atlantia-specific ASL (long!)

Date: Fri, 26 Feb 1999 13:02:11 EST

From: SCAVard at

To: atlantia at


In response to my recent post regarding American Sign Language (ASL)

interpretation within SCA settings, I received several private messages from

folks looking for more information.


As a form of disclaimer, let me make it clear that I am not an expert on the

subject, as I have been looking myself for this information for some time. I

am merely someone with a good, practical working knowledge of ASL who has

wanted to learn how to sign within the SCA for some time, but have had little

luck (until now) finding this information.  In the interests of getting people

together with the information they're seeking, I am happy to share publically

what I've learned. Please do not confuse the messenger with the message, for I

am merely relaying what I have uncovered through my research.  The experts on

the subject are those who are actively interpreting within SCA settings, I am

passing along what information they have made available through various



The SCA has its own unique vocabulary, one which contains words that are not

encountered on an everyday basis.  How many times have you encountered the

words "Atlantia" or "Windmaster's Hill" or "Chirurgeon" in a setting OTHER

than the SCA?  Further, some words which are used quite frequently in the SCA

have a different meaning than it would in the rest of the world.  For example,

the word "King" is a concept that translates well from the mundane world into

an SCA setting, because it has the same meaning in both. But the word "Count"

does not.  We use it as a title denoting rank, but the mundane world uses this

word primarily as a verb, as in "Don't count your chickens before they've



One of the biggest hurdles that an interpreter has to overcome when settling

into an SCA setting is the learning of the vocabulary. It's not a matter of

knowing "how" to sign, but more a matter of knowing "what" to sign.  For

instance, how does one interpret "That Count is from Dun Carraig"?  It's

tough, and unless you know the SCA-specific signs for the nouns Count and

Dun Carraig, you're forced to resort to fingerspelling.


Anyway, enough of the theory, on to the practice!


Before I begin, let me toss ONE LAST disclaimer into the pile.  The following

is not intended to teach anyone how to sign.  It is EXTREMELY difficult to

explain in words how to sign, and like any language, ASL is one which can

really only be learned by being around others who use the language.  The

following assumes that the reader has at least a working knowledge of ASL,

and will hopefully show them how to adapt the language they already know to

convey concepts that are SCA-specific.


My thanks to Lady Ariane Desire'e Des Cedres (aka Lady Cedar) for compiling

this information, to Lord Stefan li Rous for capturing this in his

Florilegium, and to Lord Gregory Blount for archiving Stefan's Florilegium

on his website.


NOTE : All ASL signs are preceded by an asterisk (*), the phrase "Manual

Alphabet Letter" is shortened "MAL"







*king MAL "K" from non-dominant shoulder to dominant hip. (Be sure that the

palm orientation is correct -- if not, this can easily be confused with the

sign for "*PRINCE")


*queen MAL "Q" moving from non-dominant shoulder to dominant hip.


*prince MAL "P" moving from non-dominant shoulder to dominant hip. (Be sure

that the palm orientation is correct -- if not, this can easily be confused

with the sign for "*KING")


*princess MAL "P" moving from non-dominant shoulder to dominant shoulder to

dominant hip.


duke MAL "W" at dominant temple (The closest we could come to the STRAWBERRY

LEAVES of a ducal coronet of rank)


duchess MAL "W" at dominant temple + "*GIRL" + "*FORMAL,POLITE,FANCY"


count MAL "C" moving from center of forehead to dominant temple.


countess MAL "C" moving from center of forehead to dominant temple + "*GIRL"+



viscount MAL "V" at center of forehead moving to dominant temple and changing

to MAL "C" (Be VERY CAREFUL with the palm orientation on the "V" so as not to

sign "*STUPID" -- palm should be facing to the NON-DOMINANT side)


viscountess MAL "V" at center of forehead moving to dominant temple and

changing to MAL "C" (Be VERY CAREFUL with the palm orientation on the "V" so

as not to sign "*STUPID" -- palm should be facing to the NON-DOMINANT side)



baron Closed "X" handshape moving from center of the forehead to dominant

side, denoting three of the pearls in the Baronial coronet


baroness Closed "X" handshape moving from center of the forehead to dominant

side, denoting three of the pearls in the Baronial coronet + "*GIRL" +

"*FORMAL,POLITE,FANCY"  [NOTE : If it is necessary to differentiate between

a "LANDED" and a "COURT" baron/baroness you can do so by adding "*GOLD" or

"*SILVER" after signing "BARON/ESS". Note, however, that I learned this

practice from my time in the Middle Kingdom, where the color or the coronet

denoted the type of Baron.  This is NOT a universal practice. -Vard]


majesty "M" handshape moving up -- the sign for "*HIGH"


excellency "E" handshape moving up -- the sign for "*HIGH"


highness "H" handshape moving up -- the sign for "*HIGH"


royal MAL "R" moving from non-dominant shoulder to dominant hip




*peer Sign for "*EQUAL"


master/mistress Sign for equal made into an intialized sign using the MAL

"M" on each hand (all masters/mistresses of whatever flavor are peers)


laurel MAL "L" on each hand placed on chest where the peerage medallion

would rest, showing the shape of the laurel wreath.


apprentice  Sign for "*HELPER"


pelican duck-bill (handshape like sign for "*NO") then same handshape moving

to pierce the chest (the symbol of the order, the pelican vulning itself)


protege   Sign for "*STUDENT"


knight MAL "K" at waist moving from center to dominant side, drawing the

belt which is the symbol of the order.


squire MAL "S" in the same movement as the sign for "KNIGHT"


master/mistress of arms  MAL "M" at non-dominant shoulder, moving to dominant

of arms hip where it becomes MAL "A", for the baldric that is the symbol of

the order.


rose  Sign for "*FLOWER"




seneschal "*KEY" + "*PERSON" indicator


autocrat "*CONTROL" + "*PERSON" indicator {Closed "X" handshape on both hands,

palms facing each other. Move alternately foreward and backward -- as in

pulling strings}


chronicler  "*WRITE" + "*PERSON" indicator


chatelaine/castellan    "*WELCOME" + "*PERSON" indicator


chiurgeon Using a "C" handshape, make the sign for "*HOSPITAL"  [I have also

seen "*DOCTOR" using an initialized "C" handshape.  I do not know which is

more prevalent. -Vard]


exchequer   "*COUNT" + "*PERSON" indicator


herald Sign for "LECTURE" done with an "H" handshape.


marshall Mime pulling a sword then with "one' handshapes, cross fingers in

saltire (the heraldry denoting marshalls)


archery marshall non-dominant hand in "one" handshape, dominant hand, MAL

"M", miming pulling back a bow from the non-dominant handshape.


minister of arts "*TEACHER" initialized with the MAL "M" + "*ART"


minister of sciences "*TEACHER" initialized with the MAL "M" + "*SCIENCE"


minister of arts and sciences "*TEACHER" initialized with the MAL "M" +





court    Sign for "*CELEBRATE" + Sign for "*MEETING"




*kingdom    "*KING" +"*AREA"


barony    baron + "*AREA"


Award of Arms    "*GIFT" + display with "A" handshape




Atlantia MAL "A" at mouth + "*SEA, OCEAN"


Atenveldt "*SUN" + "*FACE"


An Tir "*LION" + mime the claw outwards


Ansteorra "*SUN" starting from waist up +"*STAR"


Caid Simultaneously with both hands outline the shape of crescents in the

air about eye height


Calontir "*CROSS" + "*FANCY, DECORATED" {the cross with the *stuff*}


Drachenwald Mime sign for "firebreath" + "*WOODS"


Outlands "*DEER" + sign for animal jumping outward


East MAL "E" moved towards right


West MAL "W" moved towards left


Middle Non-dominant hand, palm upwards. Dominant hand above this, palm facing

body, "B" handshape. Dominant hand moves in small circle and lowers tostrike

center of non-dom. palm with fingertips


Meridies MAL "M" + 3 "*STARS"


Trimaris "*THREE" + "SEA, OCEAN"


Aethelmearc Interlaced fingers (for the escarbuncle) + "*ROLLING"


Ealdermere "*FLOWER" +"*WOLF"


SIGNS FOR SOME ATLANTIAN GROUPS (taken from a different handout of Lady

Cedar's. In her own words, "The basic philosophy behind the invention of SCA-

specific signs to date is this: if it exists in the language, don't mess

with it_!!!!  If it does not exist in the language, the first place to look for

an idea to invent a sign is the heraldry. If it does not immediately lend

itself to either of these techniques, try to brainstorm what the term means and

work from there.")


Storvik "*SHIP" bouncing away toward viewer


Ponte Alto "*BRIDGE" initialized with the MAL "P"


Caer Mear  "*TOWER" initialized with the MAL "C" + "SINK"


Sacred Stone  "*ROCK" + "*HOLY"


Marinus  "*BOAT" initialized with the MAL "M"


Nottinghill Coill  "*KNOT"


Windmaster's Hill   "*HILL" + "*WIND"


Hidden Mountain   "*MOUNTAIN" + "*DARK"


Black Diamond   "*BLACK" + "JEWEL" (using the MAL "9" handshape for Jewel)


VARD'S SIGNS FOR OTHER ATLANTIAN GROUPS (View these with skepticism, for they

might conflict with signs that already exist for them. Most of these are

based primarily on the group's heraldry, but there are one or two exceptions.

If you learn of a sign for these groups, use it and not my inventions



Spiaggia Levantina   "*PURPLE" + "*EAGLE"


Bright Hills   "*HILL" + "*GLITTER"


Dun Carraig   "*CROSS"  initialized with the MAL "D" changing to a MAL "C"

(I *hate* initializing this, but the only other viable alternative would

likely be confused with the American Red Cross)


Lochmere  "*WATER" + "CRAB"  (I sign "*NO" twice simultaneously with both

hands for "CRAB")


Highland Foorde  "*MOUNTAIN" + "*THROUGH"


Stierbach   "*RED" + "*COW"


Isenfir   "*BLACK" + mime pulling a sword


There are, of course, many more groups, but I've not encountered them yet

while trying to sign.  I welcome any inputs or corrections to this



I will attempt to pull all of this information together into a pamphlet or web

site, and will of course make it available for any who wish to use it.  My

apologies to the members of the Merry Rose who had absolutely no interest in

this subject, but I believed posting it to the list was the most expedient

method for getting this information out to the public.


// VARD //  (PS - My name-sign is an MAL "V" tapped twice against the

dominant temple)


Lord Edvard Gayer, Chronicler

Barony of Dun Carraig, Atlantia



Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2000 02:32:34 MST

From: "Morgan Cain" <morgancain at>

Subject: ANST - ASL Online

To: <ansteorra at>


For those who cannot make the meeting in Steppes on the 30th (like me), some

resources: - Online dictionary, with video, and not

just USA/English (what, you didn't know that sign language differs all over

the world?)


ASL Online website:


Another one, primiarly french, is and it

links to an article on ASL at as well as

having a more general dictionary - this site offers videos with lessons;

your local library may have a set (it's always worth checking)




Also, there are SCA-specific signs developed by the guild that signs at

Pennsic, where they teach classes.  Most major courts at Pennsic are now

realtime translated by this guild.


                                ---= Morgan, slow signer


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at