The sign for coffee:
Think of the movement of an old coffee
grinder. The bottom hand stays still while
the top hand turns the crank.
Sample sentence: "Do you take sugar in your coffee?" = "YOUR COFFEE, YOU LIKE
In a message dated 8/18/2006 9:10:56 PM Pacific Daylight Time, tnslefler@
Hi, I'm Sherri Lefler. I'm a coda and one of my five children is Deaf.
an interpreter working on a project to better serve our Deaf clients
the Michigan Rehabilitation Department of Labor and Economics. Our
offers certificates in several different trades. Most of which there or
specific specialized signs for names of machinery and equipment that are
accepted as a standard. There are several interpreters that for years
been stuck in the same trade area due to experience and familiarity with
jargon and sign set-ups. Due to high demand and interest in keeping
interpreters flexible and able to cover each other I have begun to
standardized vocabulary for these specialized trades to be used within
school. I have used your site as a reference many times to see how some
the most standard signs compare to our region here in Michigan. I am
if you have signs for Latte and Cappuccino to go along with our Culinary
Thanks for you time.
Sign Language Interpreter
(269) 492-____ mobile
(269) 343-____ tty/voice
I asked one of my friends who is a coffee connoisseur what she signs for
those concepts. Below is her reply.
In a message dated 8/18/2006 11:33:29 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
Sandra Thrapp (Deaf) writes:
There is no sign for Latte (most of my Deaf friends fingerspell that
Cappuccino - we sign "coffee small strong" (handshape "F" holding
coffee mug handle)
Kevin Jackson, a communications specialist at a group
home in Humboldt County serving youth with development delays, writes:
Hello Dr. Vicars,
My name is Kevin.
I ... frequently attend get-togethers and gatherings with the Deaf Community in
Santa Rosa ... my friends and I have signs for Latte and Mocha [that are]
similar to [the sign for] "coffee" except that instead of a closed fist on top
we use an M for mocha and L for latte. I noticed on the "coffee page" that a
person suggested that there is no sign for latte or mocha).
- Kevin Jackson
Do any of your Deaf friends use
those signs? Where did you learn them? Did you come up with them yourself?
I came up with the signs while in discussion with my [Deaf] friends in Humboldt
County, at Starbucks coincidentally. I had asked them how to sign Mocha and they
told me that they just fingerspell it or sign CHOCOLATE+COFFEE, Latte was
fingerspelled also, if they just wanted a plain latte. If they wanted a flavored
latte they were always inclined to write the whole drink order on a piece of
paper and then give it to the barista. I was simply trying to bridge a gap
between the barista and the Deaf customer, we're still working on it. But now
everyone at this Starbucks knows the signs for mocha, latte, coffee, sugar, milk
etc. This star bucks also holds a gathering of Deaf folk every Sunday, its a
small group usually between 6-10 people at a time.
The signs you and your friends
have invented there at that Starbucks
in Humbolt County are "initialized" signs. You have used
the initial of the English word as one of the handshapes of the sign.
Starbucks is a "overlap" place. By that I mean
that on Sunday evenings when your Deaf group gathers for coffee Starbucks
becomes a bilingual / bicultural environment filled with people from two
different cultures and two different languages. What happens in such a
place is the two cultures and languages (Hearing/Deaf & English/ASL) overlap
which tends to result in the development of a form of communication called
"contact signing." (Formerly called "pidgin signed English in some texts.)
Contact signing by its very definition is not ASL. Which isn't to say that it
isn't useful. "Contact communication" is useful in those situations during
which two cultures are "in contact." But when those cultures are no longer in
contact there is no need for contact-communication.
It is a matter of efficiency:
Two Hearing English speakers: Efficient = spoken English
Two Deaf ASL signers: Efficient = ASL
One Hearing English speaker & one Deaf ASL signer: Efficient = contact signing
Note that contact-signing in general is not more efficient than either ASL or
spoken English. But when two cultures come into contact for whatever reason
(Hearing people to sell coffee / Deaf people to buy coffee) they tend to meet
half way since it is "more efficient" than learning "all of" the other person's
So, while efficient and useful in mixed settings -- your invented signs are not
It is possible that the initialized signs "mocha" and "latte" might spread and
be adopted for use by many Deaf coffee-shop gathering attendees but there are
two factors that will impede the widespread use of those signs the Deaf
1. The word mocha basically means "put chocolate in coffee." Thus the ASL
sign for mocha is to sign "chocolate" while ordering coffee. Note
that I said "while ordering coffee." Thus we have a sign for "mocha" but
that sign only "exists" when the circumstances are right.
2. The word "latte" can be spelled in approximately one second with one hand.
To initialize the sign "coffee" with an "L" takes more time, and "twice as many
The reason why using an initialized sign for "latte" appeals to coffee shop
attendees and employees is because Hearing people are "fingerspelling-impaired."
They can't spell or read fingerspelling as fast as Deaf people. Thus signing
"L"-coffee is an accommodation or crutch requested by Hearing people (via
"invention") and acquiesced to by Deaf people for the sake of efficiency in
When the environment is no
longer mixed, (the Deaf finish ordering and walk away from the counter and the
Hearing students get eye-strain and go home) the need for the "crutch"
disappears and Deaf people go back to spelling "latte" at high speed amongst
In a message dated 4/24/2011 1:22:53 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, noojon
Thanks for your help way back when. I asked my Deaf barista how to sign
various things, and she was quite helpful. It was a lot of fun for a while,
but then our schedules changed or something, because I stopped seeing her
Anyway, the sign for "espresso" is the motion like someone pantomiming
sipping from an espresso cup: a squished O hand tipped up at the mouth. You
can extend one or more of the lower fingers a bit for accent. Most people
don't extend any fingers, exactly, so much as the
lower fingers don't have to be touching.
For "double espresso", I would do "espresso" + "double" (back-and-forth 2
hand drawn away from the body). she understood that instantly. similarly for
"Iced coffee" is "I-C-E" + "coffee."
"Cappucino" is "C-A-P."
I forget what she said for "latte". maybe just "L"? it's probably "L-A-T" --
not sure how to keep from confusing "L" for "a pound of coffee beans." I
guess people who care enough to buy beans tend to drink it black (rather
than obliterate the taste with milk). So the people who sign one or the
other may be different groups. also, people frequently order lattes by
specifying hot vs iced (at least in Texas), which would preclude the
interpretation of meaning coffee beans.
Hot coffees are generally assumed except during the worst
parts of summer (at least in Texas), but some people are weird. It can go
either way all year round.
Anything more complicated than that is generally given a name that changes
from coffee shop to coffee shop, which would be signed out word by word or
letter by letter until it's unique and meaningful.
For instance, everyone creates some pun based on the name of the business
for a hot coffee with a shot of espresso:
Creek tweak (Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse)
Spider Bite (Spider House)
Depth Charge (???)
Big O (Ohm's), etc.
I used to have a long list of these names I kept for fun.
That said, her coffeeshop has what they call an "espresso affogato," which
is a double espresso poured over a scoop of ice cream. I tried to spell out
"affogato" and she didn't catch on. When i signed "espresso" + "ice cream",
though, she got it instantly. I think part of the problem is that no one
ever orders that--even the hearing baristas (who do more taking of orders)
don't know how to ring it up, and the owner always thinks they're asking how
to ring up "espresso avocado!"
That's as far as we got in just our few visits. i didn't confirm the signs
with anyone else -- I don't know any other coffee-signing experts--but both
the signs and the signing confusion feel universal.
We live in Austin, next to the Texas school for the Deaf.
I hope that wasn't too pedantic, I don't know how much you frequent local
coffee shops, or how much the cultures change from city to city!
Thanks again for your help!