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American Sign Language: "computer"

There are a number of ways to sign "computer."
Check with your local Deaf or your local instructor before deciding which version to use.

Some of the most popular ways are below. The pictures show large movements.  Remember that people who sign fluently tend to do so quickly and in a very small signing space.

Here is a very popular sign for computer that is recognized nationwide. The dominant "C" hand moves in a circle on the forearm or wrist of the palm-down base hand.  The thumb of the dominant hand brushes against the surface of the back of the base hand.


Note:  A while back this version of "computer" used to be done more on the left forearm.  Which is how I would sign it if I had to use the word "church" in the same sentence as "computer."  ("Church" just taps up and down on top of the base hand fist -- there is no circular movement in the sign CHURCH.)  I don't do the sign COMPUTER on my forearm any more unless I'm trying to be "very clear."  Instead I just do it on top of the wrist.



This version of the sign "computer" is common in some parts of the country. The dominant hand "C" taps the forehead twice. 


Note:  Yes, that is my daughter, Kelsey, (second of four children).



"Tape reel" version. In this version each hand traces a circle in the air at the same time.  The movement is reminiscent of the huge memory tapes used in ancient mainframe computers. The hands move up, right, down, and left in a circle.  The hands do not move forward or backward. Just up, right, down, left.

COMPUTER (not recommended)


Note:  You can do the "memory tape" version of Computer using "INDEX" fingers ("1" handshapes) instead of "C" handshapes.

Dear Dr. Bill,
I had another question, being now on lesson 5 and looking at the sign for "computer". In the one version, the "memory tape" version, do the hands move away from the body at the top of the circle, or the bottom?
- Mikaela Bell

In the "memory tape" version of computer, the hands do not move away from the body.  They stay the same distance from the body but move in circles as if on a reel. See: COMPUTER (.gif)
Actually, I'm going to move that version to the archives.  Just learn the newer more common versions.
Dr. Bill

In a message dated 4/25/2006 7:04:03 PM Pacific Daylight Time, Neo writes:
Hey Bill! The other day I signed 'computer' to a deaf friend, the 'computer' used on this website, and she looked at me funny. So I signed it the different way, once again a blank stare. I resorted to the third way, and... nothing (she's only 12 so she might not know many variations of signs). So I just fingerspelled it and she understood. But I asked the next day an interpreter about how to sign it, and here we sign it like that first set of pictures you have on the classifier c page. It's a 'c' going from the elbow to the back of the hand. Have you ever seen it signed this way? Or is this what you mean when you say on one of the variations that it was done on the forearm?
Dear Neo,
COMPUTER is one of those signs that has many, many variations.
Hmmm, going from the elbow to the back of the hand you say?  Using a single movement?  I can imagine how the older form of the "C" circling above the forearm version could have mutated into a "C" jumping from the elbow to the wrist version. (That sort of makes me think of a version of the sign for McDonalds if done with a "C.")

There are (as I've pointed out on my computer page) many variations all over the country.

Here in Sacramento we commonly us a "C" tapping on the forehead.  I personally don't like the version because that is also the sign for "Columbus." But I'm not the one who decides.  (Consensus is a bugger eh?) In my classes I tend to teach the "C" on forehead version because that is what is used "here."

But, really, the only variation that counts is the one that successfully gets your message across to the person with whom you are conversing.  Then again, if you are taking an ASL class, the variation that counts is the one being used by your ASL teacher.  ;-)
- Dr. Bill

p.s. My wife looked over my shoulder as I typed the above (she does that rather often -- nosey wench) and informed me that she likes the "C" on the forehead version because it only takes "one hand" to do. Ahem.

Update:  It's now May of 2009.  I continue to notice a shift here in the Sacramento region. Quite a few people are starting to adopt the "C" on the back of the wrist version.  Why? It seems to do with the use of video relay interpreting services.  As the local interpreters spend more time terping for a larger (nation wide) audience they are seeing the "nationally dominant" version of the sign for computer more often than they are seeing the "locally" dominant version. And that which you see "more often" is the one you tend to start using.  But students should use the version their instructor uses -- at least "in the classroom" and until the end of the semester.
-- Dr. Bill 

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