Are you interested in learning American Sign Language? One of the first steps is learning the American Sign Language alphabet.
This lesson discusses the ASL manual alphabet, provides tips to help you sign, and describes the situations in which the alphabet should be used.
The ASL Manual Alphabet
We’ve all seen people communicating via sign language out in public or in the movies. The 1996 film Jerry Maguire is famous for its line, ‘You complete me,’ signed by a couple in an elevator. (Although a more accurate translation of that scene would be, ‘You make me complete.’) Are you interested in what these people are signing? Maybe you would like to know how accurate that scene in Jerry Maguire really is.
Well, one of the first steps in learning American Sign Language is learning the manual alphabet.American Sign Language (ASL) uses hand signals, facial expressions and body language to convey meaning. ASL, the primary sign language used in North America, is a complete language with a defined syntax and grammar. The ASL manual alphabet, one part of this language system, utilizes the signer’s dominant hand to represent all of the letters of the English language alphabet.The ASL alphabet, unlike the British manual alphabet, for example, only uses one hand.
While some letters, such as the signs for O or Z, directly mimic the written version, most signs do not mimic the written version.Fingerspelling is the act of using the manual alphabet to sign out the individual letters in a word. When doing so, your palm is facing the listener for the majority of the letters.
(Some exceptions are the letters G and H, where your palm faces you, and the letters P and Q, where your palm faces down.) The letters J and Z are traced in the air as you would read them, not your listener.Here are some tips to help you with fingerspelling:
- Hold your dominant hand in front of your shoulder at a comfortable angle. Face your palm towards your listener.
- Maintain a steady pace when forming your letters. Focus on accuracy rather than speed. Your speed will naturally increase as you become more comfortable with the language. Provide a brief pause between each word.
- Mouth the word, not the individual letters, as you sign.
- Keep your hand position steady; do not bounce with each letter.
Using the Manual Alphabet
You may know that fingerspelling is used when signing proper nouns such as names, places, titles, and brands. However, there are also many terms in the English language that do not have unique signs (like Sumatran orangutan). In these cases, fingerspelling is also used.To give you any idea of how pervasive fingerspelling can be, consider that by some estimates English has more than a million words and American Sign Language has only around 10,000 signs.
That’s a lot of words eligible for fingerspelling. And, while most of us probably won’t use the term ‘fungal pneumonia’ in everyday speech, ‘chimpanzee,’ ‘mule,’ ‘pony,’ and ‘Portuguese’ are all rather common words that require fingerspelling.
American Sign Language (ASL) is the primary sign language used in North America. It’s a unique, complex language with its own grammar and syntax.
ASL uses hand signals, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. The ASL manual alphabet is a system that uses the signer’s dominant hand to represent each letter of the English language alphabet.Fingerspelling is the act of using a manual alphabet to sign each individual letter of a word. Fingerspelling is used for proper nouns, such as names, places, titles, and brands. It’s also used when the word does not have a separate, unique sign in ASL.