In sign language
, a classifier is a handshape that represents an object already named, or an object whose visual appearance is being described.
Perhaps the most simple ASL
classifier is the handshape
used for the number one
. This can represent a person standing, a candle, or an object of similar shape, regardless of size. The "person standing" classifier can be used to show a person's movement across a room. Once the spatial
setup has been established, the classifier moves across the space to represent the object's motion.
Some classifiers do not resemble their associated objects. A car, truck, motorcycle, police car, train, and most other vehicles are represented using the three
handshape, with the thumb pointed toward the ceiling (if the vehicle is right-side-up).
When used to describe the shape of an object, classifiers do not indicate movement or placement. The handshape used for the letter c
is the classifier for a mug, cup, glass, bottle, and other objects of similarly uniform round shape. The signer
's hand moves up from its starting point, stopping at the approximate height of the object - a glass, for example, will be taller than a mug. (Martini glasses, teacups, and others are not shown with the c
classifier, instead their shape must be explained with appropriate combinations of handshapes.
Classifiers are an essential component of communicating in sign language. As such, sign language teachers must refer to the term "classifier" frequently. In these classes, and elsewhere when the term "classifier" represents a handshape, the term is abbreviated to the fingerspelled