Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

J. Albert Bickford


One of the obstacles in translating the Hebrew Scriptures into sign language is the lack of signs for Biblical places in most sign languages of the world. What solutions are there? One possibility is to borrow existing signs for Biblical places from another sign language, particularly from Israeli Sign Language, since Israeli Deaf already have signs for the places where they live.

There is a trend towards borrowing foreign place name signs (toponyms), especially when a language does not have a sign. This research provides a corpus of Israeli Sign Language (ISL) toponyms for ninety-two place names, documenting in photos most of the existent ISL place names for Biblical places and modern cities in Israel, along with sign etymologies. Three native Israeli Deaf are the experts videotaped for this research.

I provide an analysis of ISL toponym structure, borrowed elements, and semantic content and a summary of a methodology which can be applied to study the toponyms of other sign languages.

Single morpheme signs are the most common structure in ISL toponyms. When an ISL place name includes a generic sign, usually this element occurs first. Most complex signs have borrowed elements, and simple loan translations are the most common borrowed element in the complex signs. ISL toponyms are named after things typical of spoken languages as well, the two largest classes of semantic content being environmental and historical, followed by a smaller class with etymologies based on people and other place names.