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American Sign Language: Left-handed signing:

Also see "Right or left-handed signing" and "Left-handed Numbering"

Dear Dr. Bill,
I am left handed and I feel most comfortable signing with my left hand. Are there any definite rules on which hand I must use and will I confuse people if I sign with my left hand?
-Sarah Allison
Hi Sarah,
Left-handed signers sign a mirror image of how right handed people sign. You use your left hand as your "dominant" hand. You use your left hand for fingerspelling and any "one-handed signs." The signs you see me doing with my right hand, you do with your left hand.

The exceptions to the "mirror" rule are certain signs involving "directions." For example, when you sign the general concept "LEFT"-(direction) you would use an "L" handshape on your left hand (since you are left-handed) and move it to your left.

When a lefty wants to sign the concept "RIGHT" (as in "the direction") they would sign it with an "R" handshape on the left hand and do the movement to the right.

Most fingerspelling is done "in place" (without dragging the hand to the side) but occasionally for some double letters you will slide to the side a tiny bit. Lefties slide to their left (not to the right -- regardless of how written English flows to the right).

Lefties should also sign letter "J" as a mirror image of the right-handed version of "J."  The curve may feel backward or wrong to you if you think of it from an English writing perspective -- but this isn't English writing -- it is ASL signing.

- Bill

Dear Dr. Vicars,
I began looking at your site with some interest, as I am a late deafened adult. Double disability for the late deaf, who are left-handed - and there are quite a few, like myself. Even the Gallaudet books describe signs as right hand this & left hand that. It isn't easy learning sign later in
life, but would help if descriptions stated dominant & non-dominant hands.
They don't have to be written out in full, once explained. Each time I read a description saying - left arm horizontal, right hand... I have to say OK - rt arm horizontal, left hand... etc. Slow work. Thanks for your interest.
Good luck with the site...
Rosalie D'Souza

I'm sure at least one out of seven people* would certainly agree with you.
You make a good point.
- Bill

* (Approximately one in seven people are left-handed).

Dear Dr. Vicars,
While it is kind of you to say that I make a good point and you are obviously aware of the left-handed "community" I get the impression that you have no interest or intention of making your descriptions appropriate to the use of either hand rather than focusing on right-handed users. Of course your diagrams & photos are fine, since lefties typically mirror righties without difficulty. Can you not work toward dom & non descriptions? I continue to be amazed that this is not being done.


You are right. Forgive me. I've sat here for way longer than I care to state mulling this over in my mind. I've started typing various sentences that go about justifying my choice and then backspacing because the fact is any reason I give you will not be satisfactory.

I do very much care about people and I do want to be accommodating.

The challenge however is that "dominant / non-dominant" terminology would have to be explained not just once, but again and again (on every sign page where it is used) because there is no "one" entry point into an online curriculum like this when people often arrive to various pages via online search. Right-hand / left-hand terminology requires much less explanation. However, I'll start moving in the direction of using "dominant/non-dominant hand" terminology in my descriptions for future entries and when updating existing pages.

Signing for lefties, "a matter of life and death?"
In a message dated 6/17/____ 10:38:22 PM Pacific Daylight Time, clavimon@_____ writes:
Dr Vicars,
I'm relatively new to ASL, and I am left-handed. My question is this:
Does it matter if I use my left hand in place of my right? Does performing a sign levorotatorily ever affect its meaning? Most ASL instruction I see indicates that the right hand does one thing while the left does another, but if, say I signed "afternoon" with my right forearm and hand on the horizontal and my left forearm and hand at 2 o'clock, would that seem just as valid? I'd like to know if I'm backwards before I learn too much that way!

Chad Lavimoniere

Hello Chad,
"Levorotatorily!"  Now that's a good word to use for fingerspelling practice!

If you use the definition of "levorotatorily" that means "rotating to the left" then yes, it changes the meaning of a sign. Sweeping or rotating of certain signs can be used to indicate habituality, plurality, verb agreement, etc. For example, "rotating to the left" the sign "your turn" would indicate that it is the turn of a person (or absent referent) on the signer's left.

But I don't think that is what you are asking. I think you are simply asking "does doing a sign left-handed change the meaning of the sign?"

Does the mere act of a left-handed person doing a sign with his left hand impact the meaning of a sign in any way? 

There are occasionally times when a strict left-handed mirror image production of a sign would impact the meaning of that sign.

For most signs, a left-handed person can and should simply do a mirror image of the way signs are done by right handed people. For example, a right handed person does the sign CHILDREN by patting the "heads" of two imaginary children. One of the imaginary children is standing in front of and slightly to the right of the signer. The second child is standing farter to the right of the first child.
When a left handed signer does the sign for CHILDREN, they should do a mirror image of the sign done by a right handed signer. Which is to say, the first imaginary child is standing in front of and slightly to the left of the left-handed signer. The second child is standing further to the left of the first child.
And so it is for vast majority of other signs done by left-handed people. They just do a mirror image of the signs done by righties.

However, there are a few situations when the "mirror needs to be broken."

Suppose you were with a group of Deaf and lost in a big city. People might start using directional signs like "RIGHT" and "LEFT."  A left-handed person instead of using a mirror image and doing the sign for "RIGHT" with a left-ward movement would use a directionally appropriate movement. Let me give a very specific example. Suppose you are driving in the passing (left-hand) lane on a road in the aforementioned big city and your left-handed passenger wants you to "move into the right hand lane." He would not do a mirror image of the right-handed sign for "CL:3"-"move over to right lane." A mirror image would actually mean, move further to the left and may result in a crash!  Instead the left-handed signer would move their hand in a directionally appropriate manner (real world orientation) toward the right (in that situation).

So there you have an example of directionally appropriate signing actually a life-and-death matter.

Best of luck and safe signing.

- Bill

In a message dated 9/18/2010 9:23:20 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, tsmullins@ writes:

Dear Dr Bill,
I know you are very busy, but I have one quick question, if you have time. I interpret our church service for two deaf children. I really enjoy working with the kids.
I am left hand dominant. I have had one of the step parents tell me that to sign God with my left hand is wrong and disrespectful. He also went on to tell me that any sign to God should be made on the right side, for example praise God. Could you please tell me if it is wrong to sign God left handed? This really took me by surprise. I will talk this over with some of my deaf friends at the next deaf club meeting as well.
- Shane

I'd be curious as to where this person is getting their information.

I've attended "Sunday School" countless Sundays in six states and numerous congregations, served a two-year mission, and have been highly active in the Deaf community for the majority of my life. My opinion is that the "right" way for a left-handed person to sign "God" (in American Sign Language within American culture) is to do so as a mirror image of how a right-handed person does the sign for "God."

People in some cultures or regions of the world consider the left hand to be unclean. If you are signing in an area where the left hand is considered unclean you should adjust your signing to match the culture in which you find yourself.

However the vast majority of people here in the United States have no problem signing (or eating) with our left hands.
- Bill



See "Right or left-handed signing"

Also see:
Left-handed Numbering


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