Topic: What is the "right way" to fingerspell?
A student writes:
(In a message dated 3/31/2003 1:18:58 AM Central Standard Time)
Dear Dr. Bill,
At church the other day I met a fellow who interprets for another
church nearby when he isn't attending services here. We just had a
few brief minutes to converse before he had to return to ushering
duties. He's the first person that can sign that I've really
approached. He was very pleasant and encouraging, but he immediately
corrected me on some of the letters I've been fingerspelling, and I
want to share this info with you for you reaction.
For c, d
and o and p, he said that I should to sign them sideways, that is
pointing off to my left, rather than straight on at the viewer. Yet
my Costello monster dictionary, and the ASL Browser web site, and
what I've learned from your web site, show them signed pretty much
straight on at the viewer.
As for the letter g, I had been
signing it straight to the left, so my thumb is partially hidden
from the viewer behind my index finger. He corrected me in saying
that I should roll the sign back towards myself 90% so the thumb
shows itself too.
Also, the letter k he demonstrated was
backhanded and pointing left as opposed to the frontal view I've
been learning. Are either one of these ok?
The reasons he
gave for the above changes were that the letters are more easily
recognized this way. Nothing wrong with that. But I want to
learn sign as it is actually used in the vernacular by the Deaf, and
so am concerned lest this advice not be practical, especially when
it comes to my receptive learning. I need to be able to recognized
letters signed as they are actually signed* - not just picture
perfect and intelligible. (*one of the many things I like about your
Thanks for any insight you can provide.
If you were to go out and ask a hundred deaf people to show you
the right method to sign the fingerspelled alphabet.-- you'd end up
seeing dozens of "correct" variations.
This is such a "non" issue. There isn't "one" right way to
sign a "g" or a "k." But beginners are always being told by
"experts" that one way or another is the "right" way to do it.
Allow me to introduce Dr. Bill's first rule for receiving signing
advice from others:
1. Smile nicely and nod your head.
Bill's second rule for receiving signing advice from others:
2. Do your own research.
Congratulations! Looks to me like you are following both
rules very well.
As far as my contribution to your research on palm
orientation for fingerspelling, I will offer my first rule of
1. If it hurts, don't do it.
Lots of interpreters give advice on clear signing.
Their job is to sign clearly. Their advice is accurate,
pointing your palm at the person you are spelling to is
clear. It is a "clear" indication that you are
going to end up with carpal tunnel syndrome. [wink]
You said you wanted to learn sign as it is actually used by the
Go watch some 70-year-old Deaf people fingerspell. They are
spelling to their bellybuttons! Why? Because holding their hands
down low and at a comfortable angle causes them the least
arthritic pain. Make sure to walk up and tell them that they
are doing it wrong because some website, book, or instructor said
so. [grin + wink]
My suggestion is to hold your hand up at a comfortable angle.
If you're using your shoulder to raise your arm--you are working too
hard. If your forearm is totally vertical, you are working too
hard. If your wrist is bent, you are asking for carpal tunnel.
Just bend the arm at the elbow and point your palm at a comfortable
340 degree angle. Here is the "angle" for a right-handed
I hardly bend my wrist while spelling.
Fingerspelled letters rarely occur in isolation so it is simply not
an issue. I bend my wrist a small bit forward on p and q so that my
palm is somewhat more parallel to the ground. The index of my
"p" hand points at 10'oclock on a sundial. That is the same
direction of ALL my fingerspelling. It is a mix of comfort for
me and clarity for my conversation partner. On "Q" I point the
index somewhat downward. Interesting though, when I'm showing
fingerspelling to a beginning level class I tend to point the "q"
index finger straight down. I realize now that is just
"teacher talk." Teacher talk is similar to "motherese" --the
exaggerated method of communication used by mothers when talking
with their newborn children.
It took me forever in my own signing to quit doing
"J" with a big twist of my wrist and instead to it without movement
in my wrist and instead rotate my forearm (as if screwing in a light
bulb). I was doing it that way so my students could see the
When doing "c, d, and k" my palm points at the 10
o'clock on the sundial. (Just like all my other letters.)
Well that's about it for now. If you have
other questions let me know.