The Alplai Sign Language, or heijajna, is the primary language for Alplai’s deaf population. It was developed by Torvelosh, a Baalti goverment official who had lost his hearing in an explosion; he developed the basic signs and system, rooted in both the Baija and Kiitra languages. Over time, as it was adopted by deaf people and their teachers, more signs were adopted, some coined and others borrowed from village and home signing systems.
Fingerspelling is done with the right hand raised at the right shoulder, usually pointing upwards. Vowels start with the palm facing out and forward, and finger extended; the glottal stop (‘) and “h” also have the palm facing out, but with the four fingers curled; remaining consonants start with the palm facing in towards the shoulder, and fingers curled inwards.
a = palm out with tip of forefinger and thumb touching
aa = palm out with thumb over palm, forefinger curled over thumb
o = palm out with thumb pointing out, forefinger curled down
i = palm out with tip of middle finger and thumb touching
ii = palm out with thumb over palm, middle finger curled over thumb
e = palm out with thumb pointing out, middle finger curled down
u = palm out with tip of ring finger and thumb touching
uu = palm out with thumb over palm, ring finger curled over thumb
ai = palm out with tip of forefinger and middle finger touching tip of thumb
ei = palm out with tip of middle finger and ring finger touching tip of thumb
‘ (glottal stop) = palm out with thumb over palm, all four fingers curled over thumb
h = palm out with thumb pointing out, all four finger curled into palm
s = palm in with forefinger and middle finger extended
g = palm in with forefinger and thumb extended
k = palm in with forefinger, middle finger and thumb extended
kh = “k” sign bent at wrist to point left
n = palm in with little finger, ring finger and thumb extended
m = palm in with little finger, ring finger, middle finger and thumb extended
f = palm in with ring finger extended
v = “f” sign bent at wrist to point left
j = palm in with little finger and forefinger extended
z = palm in with little finger, forefinger and thumb extended
sh = “z” sign bent at wrist to point left
p = palm in with middle finger and forefinger extended
b = palm in with middle finger, forefinger and thumb extended
d = “p” sign bent at wrist to point left
t = “b” sign bent at wrist to point left
l = palm in with little finger extended
r = palm in with little finger and thumb extended
rh = “r” sign bent at wrist to point left
Counting is done with the right hand, based on the customary finger-counting method; the right hand is held over the left shoulder, palm facing in (1 to 9) or upwards (10 and multiples of 10).
1 = little finger extended
2 = little finger and ring finger extended
3 = little finger, ring finger and middle finger extended
4 = all four fingers extended
5 = thumb only extended
6 = thumb and forefinger extended
7 = thumb, forefinger and middle finger extended
8 = thumb, forefinger, middle finger and ring finger extended
9 = all four fingers and thumb extended
10 = tips of fingers and thumb together, pointing upwards
11 = “10” sign, “n” sign at left shoulder, “1” sign
20 = “2” sign, “10” sign
100 = “10” sign with fingertips tapped once against left shoulder
1,000 = “10” sign with fingertips tapped twice against left shoulder
23,000 = “2” sign, “3” sign, “1,000” sign
Notes on historical development
Alplai Sign Language grammar, while very simple, is more similar to that of spoken/written Alplai languages for a number of reasons:
- Prior to Torvelosh developing the initial system, Baija deaf children were encouraged to communicate by writing, with home and village signs merely supplementing written communication.
- Torvelosh himself had acquired hearing loss, and therefore used the grammatical system he was accustomed to.
- Even when Alplai Sign Language began to be taught outside the Baija regions, they were first taught to adults or older children who had acquired hearing loss; it was not until later that non-Baija regions encouraged teaching and usage for children who were either born deaf or had lost their hearing prior to language acquisition.
- The Alplai deaf community placed a high value on integrating with the hearing world, both in communicating with hearing people and aspiring to be their equals; hence they were slow to adopt a distinct grammar.
Alplai Sign Language therefore went through three phases of evolution:
- The early phase, during which Baija grammatical structure was a major influence.
- The “variant” phase, when signing became more widespread, and distinct communities would use a simplified version of the grammar for the dominant spoken/written language in their respective areas.
- The “universal” phase, when a simplified grammar evolved within Alplaa’s global deaf community.
Basic grammatical structure
The basic structure is subject-verb-object (SVO); adjective and adverb forms immediately precede, or are combined with, the forms they modify. Questions begin with a general interrogative marker sign, followed by any specific interrogative sign (“what”,”where”,”who”, etc.)
Nouns and verbs are typically made with the left hand (nouns in front and above waist; verbs starting at the waist and in front to the left); adjectives and adverbs are made with the right hand directly above the noun or verb being modified.
Signs for verbs in the present tense are made with the left hand held in front and to the left at waist level. For past tense, the verb sign is moved back over the left shoulder. For future tense, the verb sign is moved down and to the right.
Basic word/concept signs
The basic “greetings/”hello” sign is the same as the ovetna or traditional Alplai greeting gesture: right hand placed in center of chest with fingers splayed, with a slight bow forward from the waist.
Some Alplai signers will use their ethnic equivalent of the ovetna in place of this sign, at least with others of their own ethnicity.
The sign for “welcome” begins as the ovetna, with right hand on chest; the left arm is extended out with the open hand palm up, then bent at the elbow to bring the left hand to the right shoulder.
The sign for “goodbye” could be called a “mirror-image” ovetna: left hand placed in center of chest with fingers splayed, with a slight bow forward from the waist.
Gender, persons, and pronouns
Male gender is indicated by placing the back of the right hand on the top front of the head, fingers extended; this signifies the male Alplai crest of feathers. Female gender is indicating by placing the right hand palm down on the same spot on the head.
The sign for “individual”/”person” is the left hand raised shoulder level and forward, palm in with ring and middle fingers extended downwards, other fingers curled. Pronouns are as follows:
- “I”/”me” = person sign pointing to self
- “you (singular)” = person sign pointing forward towards other individual
- “he”/”him” = person sign pointed to left, plus “male” sign
- “she”/”her” = person sign pointed to left, plus “female” sign
- gender-neutral third-person singular = person sign pointed to left
- “it” inanimate third-person singular = person sign with little finger also extended pointed left
For the corresponding plural forms (“we”/”us”, “you (plural)”, “they” animate and inanimate) add a circular motion. Hence, for “we”/”us”, point the person sign to oneself and move in a small circle.
For the possessive form, add an extended index finger to the person sign; the inanimate third person is thus changed to all four fingers extended but thumb folded over palm.
The interrogative marker is a right fist with hooked/bent thumb, palm in and thumb pointing upwards. Done alone, it corresponds to the Kiitra interrogative particle f’taa. It can also be placed on top of another sign to indicate a specific interrogative word; hence the marker on top of the sign for “individual/person” would indicate “who”.
The sign for “maybe” or “possible”/”possibly” (Kiitra: shipaa) is the left hand in front of the chest, palm down with fingers extended and thumb folded over the palm, waving rapidly up and down.
Using the “maybe” sign with both hands indicates uncertainty.
To add “maybe”/”possibly” as a prefix to a word, use the “maybe” sign with the right hand over the word expressed with the left.
The sign for “no” is the left hand held in front of the chest, palm facing in and fingers fully extended and spread wide apart, quickly snapped or waved in front.
An emphatic no (Kiitra: neija) is as above, but with both hands simultaneously.
To add a negative prefix to a word, use the “no” sign with the right hand over the word represented with the left.
The sign for “thanks”/”thank you” is to touch both open hands to the upper chest, then down and forward with palms up.
The sign for “yes” is the left hand held in front of the chest, forefinger and little finger extended, quickly snapped upwards.
An emphatic yes (Kiitra: shasha) is as above, but with both hands simultaneously.
The marked affirmative in response to a negative question (Kiitra: sheina) is made the same as “yes” but with the hand quickly snapped forward.
To add emphasis to a word (like prefixing with “definitely” or “very” in English, or shasha in Kiitra), use the “yes” sign with the right hand over the word represented with the left.