Tip: If your screen goes "white" it is because the larger
version is so large that you are only seeing the upper left-hand
corner of the graphic.
For more letters and handshapes, see:
Dr. Bill's Notes:
While there is a handshape that
represents the fingerspelled letter "A" it is important to realize that American
Sign Language doesn't use the English letter "A" as a word the same way it is
used in spoken or written English.
Let's consider for a moment the difference in English between the words "a" and
When we use the word "a" in a sentence in English it tends to be so we can
introduce a previously unidentified concept into the conversation.
For example, if I use the phrase "a cat" then I'm probably bringing up the topic
of a previously unidentified cat.
If I use the phrase "the cat" it generally means I'm referring to a previously
Thus "a" and "the" are "reference" words. We use them to refer to a topic in
this case, "a cat."
In ASL to refer to a previously unidentified cat you would not use the
fingerspelled letter "A" but instead you might sign:
I NOTICE NEW CAT
NEW CAT show-UP
HAPPEN STRANGE CAT
CAT I NEVER SEE BEFORE
CAT I not-YET SEE
CAT I DON'T-KNOW
So we can see that to express the concept of "a" in ASL we would use one of the
following signs or a similar approach:
INVENTED / "came up with" / "created or made up in the mind"
To express the concept of "the" as in "the woman," we would use phrases such as:
(Directional head-thrust) WOMAN
[Location of WOMAN] (We establish the idea that there is a woman a certain
location and then refer to that location as if the woman were there. For
example, we mention that there is "a" woman. Then immediately after that we
point our index finger to a some direction in space (usually off to our dominant
side) and make a comment of some sort. It is understood that we are referring to
"the woman" as if we were actually pointing at her. We can even do certain
directional verbs (indicating verbs) such as GIVE in the direction of the
location where the woman is "established" and the sign GIVE will take on the
meaning of "give it to the woman" or a similar meaning.
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