A student wrote: "I was looking at some of the signs, but couldn't tell which way my
hands should be facing. For example one of the versions of the sign
uses a "p" handshape. Is the "P" facing me or the person I'm signing to?"
Dr Vicars: When
fingerspelling, in general the palm of your hand faces toward the watcher.
For the sake of comfort your palm is actually pointed a bit off to the right of
the person to whom you are spelling. (Unless you are left handed, then it
will be opposite.)
Letters like G, H, and P point a bit off to the right of the person to whom you
are signing. Some signers point these letters almost directly to the left.
Both methods are "okay." Use a position that feels comfortable to you yet
is clear to the observer.
In most sign language dictionaries, unless it says
or shows otherwise, you can assume the sign is angled toward the watcher. It is
important to note though that sometimes when you aim a sign at yourself or move
a sign toward yourself you are doing so to create additional meaning.
(Mine vs yours / done to me vs done to you.)
"B" Version 1:
The thumb of the letter "B" generally has a "slight" bend, but not as much
as depicted in most books.
The picture of "B" in my http://asl.ms
was taken in a series as I was spelling the ABC's.
You might notice that a "B" being produced after an "A" tends to have
little or no bend.
If you videotape a skilled signer fingerspelling the word "about" at
high speed, the "B" will generally have little or no bend in the
thumb. If you video record that same person spelling of the term "MBA"
the "B" will have a very noticeable bend. Here's how I do the
letter "B" in general:
"B" Version 2:
Some people cross the thumb over the palm. I
don't do it this way because it takes too much effort. (Hey, I'm not
lazy, just efficient.) This is how most "books" show it:
Shannon: What is a "b" palm? It doesn't relate to signing the
letter "b" right?
DrVicars: When used to describe a sign, a "b" palm is like the
letter "b" but you don't have to bend the thumb around onto the
palm. The thumb is just alongside the palm in a natural position, with the fingers touching each other (side by side, extended). Think of a traffic cop
telling oncoming traffic to stop.
Shannon: Okay that's what I guessed; just wanted to make sure.
"Classifier B," "Flat hand," or "B palm."
This handshape uses a "B" hand with the thumb
alongside instead of folded across the palm. This handshape is used to describe flat, rectangular objects or
Examples: - The roof of a house, a sheet of paper, a table, walls, ...
You may also see this handshape showing up after the letter "A" during very fast
spelling of words that have an "AB" combination.
When used as a size and shape specifier this handshape shows things
that are round or cylindrical.
Examples: pole, cup, or telescope.
This handshape can also be used to specify placement. You could show where
certain things are in a room. For example, a TV or a
To describe a TV or microwave you could use index fingers
to trace its outline, or b-hands to show its size and shape.
You might see an "e" that rests only three fingers on top of the thumb
when someone is spelling a name or a word that places the letter "m"
before the "e." For example: "James."
Or suppose you spell the name "J-A-N-E?" The "E" might end up
looking like this:
There is even a version of "E" that uses only "one" finger (the index
finger" perched on top of the thumb. This version often shows up after the
Note: Sometimes you'll see people do an "e" with an opening between the
fingertips and the thumb. I sometimes call that a "screaming E"
or a "Hearing person's E." (Some people call it a "bear claw E."
However it is fairly common in the Deaf Community and even used by quite a
few Deaf people. I recommend that ASL teachers stay flexible. I
also recommend we not consider it "wrong" but simply another version of "E"
that shows up from time to time -- particularly after the letter "C" when
some people spell the word "ICE."
Do "not" get hung up on debating if the tip of the finger is on top of the
thumb or the pad of the index finger is on top of the thumb. The exact
form of an "F" varies a bit depending on surrounding letters. However
-- some people care "a lot." If you have the unfortunate experience of
being taught by such a person just smile and do it their way.
You'll also see a "G" done with the thumb jutting up. That is just
You'll also see an "H" done with the thumb jutting up. That is just
M: Three fingers draped over the thumb.
In books you often see the fingers draped way over the thumb, like this:
You'll see it both ways, but think about which
version would naturally become more popular over
the years due to ease of use.. It takes extra time to drape the fingers
further over the thumb. So you can see why the "loose method" is
more popular amongst everyday users of ASL.
most skilled signers fingerspell letters like
"M, N, & T," they don't bend or wrap the fingers as tightly as the "ABC" alphabet charts tend to
depict. The same for not bending the thumb over the palm in the letter "B." Tightly wrapping the fingers over and/or around each other takes too much time. An artist has a
long time to draw
pretty handshapes. The artist can paint them carefully and in perfect form for the
sign language dictionary pages. A Deaf
person whips out a several letters per second because he is trying to get his message
across rather than impress somebody with how pretty his handshapes are.
N: Version 1:
In some parts of the country you will see a "p" done like this:
Bent V handshape:
Uses: Things with legs, people and animals that are crouching, small animals
- a small animal such as a squirrel
- a person sitting in a certain location (when done palm facing downward)
A "Bent V" is also good for doing a "double z."
Fist or "S hand" or "closed hand"
"Open hand" or "5 hand"