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Coarticulation: "Coarticulation of Fingerspelled Letters in American Sign Language"

Coarticulation is commonly defined as "the articulation of two or more speech sounds together, so that one influences the other." (Source: Coarticulation, Oxford Dictionary of English, 2010)

Coarticulation, in regard to fingerspelling in signed languages such as American Sign Language, refers to what happens when a combination of letter handshapes are articulated (fingerspelled / produced / signed). 

The American Sign Language alphabet generally consists of 22 handshapes* that--when held in specific positions and/or are produced with specific movements -- represent the letters of the American alphabet.

However, when we fingerspell letters together it is common for individual letters to be influenced by the letters that are being spelled before and after. We are “articulating” (doing) a letter combination each time we spell a word. Letters that are combined and spelled (articulated / signed / done) often look quite different than letters done in isolation.

For example if you hold up an isolated (done alone) “R”-hand the isolated “R” tends to look different than an "R" that has been coarticulated (combined into a word with other letters) in the fingerspelled word “C-A-R.”

A "citation" or "standard" R-handshape:

An "R-handshape" that has been coarticulated with the letters "C" and "A" in the fingerspelled word CAR:


* Note: While typical fingerspelling charts only show 22 different handshapes (with duplicates for G/Q, I/J, and K/P), there are in fact many more than just 22 handshapes used in fingerspelling when you consider the variety of shapes that occur when letters are coarticulated.

The following is an example of the coarticulated fingerspelled letter "E" occurring after the letter "L" in the fingerspelled word "loophole."


Abenchuchan, Alex (09/04/2019) coarticulated-e from the fingerspelled word "loophole", "Section: Updates on Texas shooter; clarifications on gun laws," News Brief: 09/04/2019, Publisher: The Daily Moth. Retrieved, 09/05/2019 from: < >


Coarticulation (2010), Oxford Dictionary of English. 3rd Ed. p.333, retrieved Feb. 12, 2019 from


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