Glossary of key terms

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Here are short explanations of some important words that SooSL uses. If you want more explanations, use the links to other help topics.

backup copy - see spare copy

bilingual dictionary - a dictionary of a language which has meanings represented by translations in another language. These translations are called glosses or translation equivalents. Most sign language dictionaries are bilingual dictionaries. They use written words to express the meanings of the signs, usually in the national written language of the country. Most SooSL dictionaries are bilingual dictionaries, with glosses in one or more written languages.

comparative dictionary - a dictionary that compares the word/signs in two or more related languages. For example, a comparative dictionary of a sign language might compare the signs in ASL, Bolivian Sign Language, and Ghanaian Sign Language. It would show which signs are the same in all three languages and which signs are only in one language.

dialect (or SIGN VARIETY) - Within one sign language, people in different places may use some different signs. Or different types of people may use different signs (men/women, older/younger, people who attended different schools). We use the word dialect for each of these varieties of a sign language. 

dictionary - a website or book that lists words/signs in a language and gives their meanings. Many dictionaries also tell other things about the words/signs, such as their grammar category, dialects, and examples of how they are used. There are several different types of dictionaries, including bilingual dictionaries, monolingual dictionaries, and comparative dictionaries. You can use SooSL Desktop to make different types of dictionaries for your sign language. You can see dictionaries that other people have made in SooSL Web.

dictionary project - In SooSL Desktop, you make a sign language dictionary inside a dictionary project. The project has many different computer files for the videos and written words that are in the dictionary. 

display language - The language that SooSL uses in its menus, dialog boxes, tooltips, etc. It can be the same as one of the written languages in a dictionary project, or different from all of them. See this topic to change the display language. 

edit mode - In SooSL Desktop, you make changes to signs in edit mode. You can change the video information for a sign (sign video, example sentences, extra videos) or change the written information (senses, glosses, example sentence translations, grammar category, dialects, notes). You can tell that SooSL is in edit mode when the status bar at the bottom of the window has a red background. After you exit edit mode, you will be back in normal mode.

example sentence - a sentence that shows an example of how a sign is used. It may show something about the meaning of the sign, where it is used in a sentence, or how it is used with other signs. Sometimes it is more than one sentence. In SooSL, example sentences are videos of someone signing, and have translations in one or more written languages.

face/head/body (or non-manual) - Sign languages use hands and other parts of the body. Most signs use the hands, but may also use movements of other parts of the body, including the face and head. In SooSL we call these parts of the sign face/head/body. Usually, people call them "non-manuals", or the parts of a sign that don't use the hands.

focal dialect - The main dialect in a dictionary. It may be the dialect where the dictionary creator is working most often. It may be the dialect that deaf people think is the best. Often it is the variety that the most people understand. Most of the signs in a dictionary will be in the focal dialect. 

font - Letters and symbols are stored inside a computer with numeric codes. A font tells the computer how to draw the letter or symbol for each letter or symbol on the screen or when printing. Basically, it is a collection of images, one for each letter or symbol. Different fonts may have the same letters and symbols, but they look different. To display or print a written language with a computer, you have to use a font that contains all the letters and symbols that the language uses. If you don't have the right font for a language, some or all of the characters will display as little rectangles: . Most fonts today are based on the Unicode system.

gloss - The word (or words) that indicate the meaning of a sign. Most glosses are ways that you can translate the sign into a written language.

gloss list - the alphabetical list of glosses in SooSL that is used to look up signs by their meaning. Except in phones, it is on the left side of the SooSL window. Some dictionaries call a list like this a "finder list", because it is a list used to find signs. It is essentially an index of the signs in the dictionary, that allows you to look them up by their glosses.

grammar category - Each sign belongs to a grammar category (noun, verb, adjective, etc.). The grammar category determines where the sign can be used in a sentence. In spoken languages, grammar categories are often called "parts of speech". That term doesn't make sense for sign languages, so we call them grammar categories. Other terms you will sometimes see are "grammatical category" or "word class".

keyboard - The word keyboard is used in two ways with computers. 1) The physical device that you type on. 2) A piece of software that translates what you type into letters and other symbols. Some languages require special software keyboards because they use letters and symbols that aren't on a normal physical keyboard. The software keyboard defines sequences of keystrokes that translate to special characters. You need to use a keyboard that matches the font that you are using for the language.

LAN (or local area network) - a way of connecting computers that allows them to share hard disk storage, printers, and other resources. Usually a LAN is inside of a single school, business, or home. Starting with version 0.9.2, SooSL Desktop allows multiple users to share access to a dictionary project through a LAN.

lexicography - the science of making good dictionaries. To learn about lexicography and make your sign language dictionary better, see these resources.

local area network - see LAN

index a sign - When you index a sign in SooSL, you identify its most important parameters. That way, people can find it easily. They can search for it by handshape, location, etc.

meaning category -  Many printed sign language dictionaries group signs according to their meaning. For example, they may have one section for food, others for animals, people, tools, school, work, etc. Each of these groups of signs can be called a "meaning category". Often, they are called "semantic categories". SooSL doesn't have a good way of keeping track of meaning categories yet, but you can, if you want, use the dialects feature for this purpose. 

monolingual dictionary - a dictionary of a language which describes the meanings of a word (sign) using other words (signs) in the same language. The descriptions of the meanings are called "definitions". Most major written languages have monolingual dictionaries. Most dictionaries of sign languages are not monolingual dictionaries. Instead, they are bilingual dictionaries, in which the meanings are expressed with glosses in a written language.

mouth gesture - a movement of the mouth that is not borrowed from a spoken language

mouth morpheme - a mouth gesture that has a specific meaning by itself. It is not connected to a specific sign, but can be used with several different signs, to modify their meaning.

mouthing - a movement of the mouth that is borrowed from a spoken language. Usually mouthings are "speaking" a word that means the same thing as the sign. The "speaking" may be with voicing or silent. Sometimes people say the whole word, sometimes just part of the word.

neutral space - Some signs are made with the hands touching or close to a part of the body. Other signs are made with the hands in front of the body, not anywhere close. We say that the location of these other signs is in neutral space. When a sign is in neutral space, we don't index it by location.

non-manual - see face/head/body

normal mode - the normal way of interacting with SooSL when you are reading a dictionary. SooSL Web always operates in normal mode. SooSL Desktop starts in normal mode, but you can switch to edit mode to make changes. You can tell you are in normal mode in SooSL Desktop when the status bar at the bottom of the SooSL window has a white background.

parameters of a sign - Parameters are the different "parts" of a sign: sign type, handshapes, location, motion, and movements of the face, head and body (non-manuals). All together, they describe how to make the sign.

sense - A sense represents one meaning of a sign and one way to use it. A sign may have more than one sense. Each sense represents a different meaning. A sense has one or more glosses that represent that meaning, in one or more written languages. To show how to use the sign, a sense has a grammar category, dialect information, and one or more example sentences.

SIGN VARIETY - see dialect

SignWriting - a writing system that has been developed for writing sign languages. Unlike many writing systems, a) it is designed for writing full texts (stories, blogs, etc.), not just individual words, b) it is intended for use by ordinary people, not just linguists, and c) it can be used with any sign language. Deaf and hearing people worked together to develop it. You can read more about it at

spare copy (or backup copy) - Computer files are easily damaged. To protect your work, you need to make spare copies of all your files often. We call these copies "spare copies". Many people call them "backup copies".

strong side and weak side - Some people are right-handed, some are left-handed. In sign languages, right-handed people use their right hand more than their left hand, and left-handed people use their left hand more. Sometimes people switch sides. Whichever hand a person is using more, we call that side of the body their strong side, and we call the other side their weak side. In SooSL, the body map shows the strong and weak sides for a right-handed signer. If you are left-handed, just look at the body map as if you are looking in a mirror.

Unicode - In computers, letters and symbols are represented inside the computer with numeric codes. There are many different systems for representing letters and symbols with these codes, but the most common one today is called Unicode. Unicode includes codes for the letters in most of the world's written languages, plus other characters and symbols. There are many fonts and keyboards that are designed using Unicode. We recommend that you use a Unicode font and keyboard with SooSL.

weak side - see strong side

ZooZL file - In SooSL Desktop, you can export a dictionary project, which means packing all the files for the project into a single file. You might do this to move a dictionary project to another computer. We call that single file a "ZooZL file", because it has a .zoozl extension. 

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