Frequently Asked Questions

  1. There are lots of BSL dictionaries out there. What makes BSL SignBank different?

    BSL SignBank is the first BSL dictionary to be both research-based and usage-based.

  2. What do you mean ”research-based”?

    BSL SignBank was assembled by a team of deaf and hearing linguists at the Deafness, Cognition and Language Research Centre. It has two functions: one as a dictionary (for learners, teachers, interpreters, etc) and another as a lexical database for researchers.

  3. What do you mean “usage-based”?

    It is not clear how most online BSL dictionaries are made. It is likely that in most cases, individual deaf people provide their sign(s) for a given concept in English (e.g. What’s your sign for ‘purple’?) This approach to dictionary making can be a problem given the amount of known variation in BSL. BSL SignBank is different because it is based on signs that deaf people have actually used in the BSL Corpus, which contains signing from 249 deaf people from 8 sites around the UK (Belfast, Bristol, Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester, Newcastle). Because studying the signs used in the BSL Corpus is taking some time, we have also topped up BSL SignBank with signs from the only other linguistically-organised BSL dictionary: the Dictionary of British Sign Language/English (Brien 1992), to help ensure that the core vocabulary is covered as much as possible. As of 2014, every sign in BSL SignBank is either from the BSL Corpus or from Brien 1992. It includes signs commonly used in conversation and also a wide range of which have never appeared in other BSL dictionaries that we know of, including for example 15 different signs for the colour ‘grey.’

  4. I’m not from one of the 8 cities listed above – why aren’t my signs included?

    We wish we could have collected BSL Corpus from every single part of the UK, but alas this was not possible and we had to choose 8 sites. One feature of BSL SignBank is that you can suggest new signs for us to add. Please help us grow the site by suggesting new signs!

  5. Why are there no mouthings and blank facial expressions?

    Facial expressions and mouth patterns are important in BSL, but they cannot be learned from a dictionary - you need to enrol in a class for that. The fact is that very few (if any) BSL signs are produced with one and only one mouth pattern/facial expression. Therefore, we show you the sign as neutrally as possible, without mouthing and without particular facial expression. Note that audio pronunciations in English dictionaries are also pretty monotone, so this is in keeping with dictionaries generally. 

  6. Why is there no BSL to English search function?

    We are working on a user-friendly BSL to English search function. Stay tuned! Until then, you can search by sign features (handshape and/or location). See the top of the page, the tab Search by Sign Features (next to Search using English).

  7. Is there a BSL SignBank app?

    We will consider an app if there is enough demand, but in the meantime, there is a mobile view of the site. Simply use the browser on your phone to go to The view should automatically adjust to your phone. If there are problems with this, please let us know!

  8. Can you provide regional information about signs?

    Why, yes we can! Check out regional information about signs for numbers, colours, countries and UK place names.