What in Sign Language – Video & Image Included

Lead Academy

How do you say What in sign language? Depending on the sentence, it can equally work as a pronoun, adjective or adverb in spoken languages as well as sign languages. So, understandably, since it’s a multi-functional word, there are a lot of sentences that use it. Consider the following sentence in spoken English:

What is What in sign language?

Here, ‘What’ is working as a pronoun.

Thus it’s among one of the first words you learn in your sign language journey. So, today we’re going to discuss how to say What in sign language.

But consider the fact that What in sign languages like the British Sign Language BSL, American Sign Language ASL or French Sign Language FSL are all different. The same is true for other sign languages as well. But, we’ll just discuss BSL today.

So let’s start our discussion on how to sign What in BSL.

What in Sign Language

Before we begin, as we said earlier, forms of sign language differ from region to region. Communication between deaf people in the United States is different from those in Australia. Sign languages follow a natural progression like spoke languages and the deaf community and other sign language users (hearing people) affect this progression.

As such, some sign languages develop a unique way of delivery.

For example, BSL is a two-handed sign language. That suggests you’ll be using both hands to communicate.

Not all sign languages use this system. Imagine one of your hands is a piece of paper. The other hand will be the pen. We call the hand that serves the role of a pen the dominant hand. For most people, it’s the right hand. So your left hand, which will assume the role of the paper, is the non-dominant hand. It’s also called the base hand.

Don’t switch your dominant hand mid-sign. Your signs will not make sense for your audience in that case.

So, back to our topic: the sign for What.

Let’s proceed to the following video. Watch it a few times carefully.

Don’t worry about the pacing of the video or the gestures in it. We’ll break down the whole process below piece by piece.

Sign Language "What"
we said earlier, forms of sign language differ from region to region.

1. Start with a normal posture. Body language is equally important for non-verbal communication like sign language.

accustomed in Sign "What"
Body language is equally important

2. Lift your dominant hand up to your chest. For the lady in the image above, it’s the right hand.

3. Your index finger should be pointing up towards the sky.

4. Keep all the fingers into a fist. The back of your hand will be facing towards you.

early posture in "What" Sign
Lift your dominant hand up to your chest.

5. Carefully analyse the two pictures above. The woman in the pictures is swaying her index finger from left to right. If you watch the video once more, you’ll see that she repeats this movement a few times, sort of like the gesture when we mean ‘No’. But in BSL, this is the sign for ‘What’.

6. It doesn’t matter if you sway your finger the other way, that is, from right to left, as opposed to the woman in the picture above. The sign will still convey the same meaning.

7. Say the word ‘What’ while you’re signing.


So that’s What in Sign Language, specifically BSL. One more important piece of advice: make your hand gestures and your facial expressions adequately visible to the person you’re communicating with. Some signs look offensive if people can’t see what you’re doing properly. Never take this risk. Also, keep a beautiful smile on your face while conversing. It will help you connect better. However, in this case, if you’re asking a question, you can also opt for the appropriate face gesture like squeezing your eyebrows. It’ll help you convey the meaning of your sentence better. Furthermore, keep a consistent practice of your newfound knowledge in sign language. Otherwise, you’ll forget them over time.