How It Works

Back to ASLSJ Instruction         Eye Word Spelling

ASL has an inventory of generally recognized ASL words using specific handshapes at specific locations, but peoples' actual signs can be quite varied.  Just like pace, pitch and pausing in written English, ASLSJ can only hint at how fast something is signed, how many times it is repeated, or what facial / body expressions are used.

ASLSJ breaks ASL words into a sequential pattern for writing.  These syllables are in two groups separated by a hyphen.  Before the hyphen is the initial hand placement.  After the hyphen is the movement and possibly the destination hand placement.


Non-manual syllable
Starting character: ' (apostrophe) or q
Uses: Body tilt, eye gaze, speed, head nod / shake

eyes looking right 'r = looking and signing to the wide-side*
eyes looking left 's = looking and signing to the base-side*
qf = move fast
qn = shaking head side to side
qs = move slowly
qy = nodding head up and down


Finger spelling syllable
Starting character: w
Uses: The next word is a spelled-out English word using the ASL manual alphabet

w-Soon = English word "soon"
w = English word indicator
-Soon = fingerspell letters S, O, O, N

wqfz-VP = Vice President
w = English word indicator
hand at forehead height qf = forehead height
z = on body (to forehead)hand on forehead
-VP = fingerspell letters V then P


Manual word
First two letters tell the handshape(s), the following letter in d,i,o,r,s,u tells the wrist rotation(s), and the letters after the hyphen tell the movement(s). P as the first letter means the base-hand's handshape is different from the the wide-hand's handshape.

bei-z = mine
open-B handshape be = wide-hand* open-B handshape (four fingers together and flat with palm)
(presumed chest height)
i = palm facing in toward body
-z = move hand onto body (to chest)

pbu-onu-tdy = money
open-B handshape pb = base-hand* open-B handshape
u- = base-hand palm facing up
O handshape on = wide-hand* O handshape (four fingers together and bent, first finger touching thumb)
(presumed chest height)
u = wide-hand palm facing up
-td = move down to touch base-hand
y = repeat the movement  (come back and touch again)


Location syllable
Starting characters: f, n, j, q, z
Uses: Wide-hand* location relative to body

befs-oy = lecture
open-B handshape be = open-B handshape (base-hand is not used)
hand at forehead height f = forehead height
s = palm facing base side
-o = move hand out toward audience
y = repeat (come back and move again)

onni-zy = food
O handshape on = O handshape (base-hand is not used)
hand at neck / chin height n = chin / neck height
i = palm facing in toward body
-z = move hand onto body
y = repeat action (come back and move again)


Palm facing syllable
Starting character: d,i,o,r,s,u
Uses: Direction to face the palms and point the fingers

beo-o = yours
open-B handshape be = open-B handshape
(presumed chest height)
o = palm facing out toward audience
-o = move hand out toward audience

lns-o = you
1 handshape ln = 1 handshape
(presumed chest height)
s = palm facing base side
-o = move hand out toward audience


Touch or Distance syllable
Starting character: j or t
Uses: Wide-hand* relative to base-hand

beddtu-o = enter
open-B handshape be = both hands open-B handshapes
(presumed chest height)
dd = base and wide-palms facing down
tu = wide-hand touching up on base-hand
-o = move wide-hand out

ceddju-sy = above
5 handshape ce = both hands 5 handshapes (four fingers and thumb spread apart flat with palm)
(presumed chest height)
dd = both palms facing down
ju = wide-hand farther up from base-hand
-s = move wide-hand to base side
y = repeat movement (come back and move again)

Wide-hand* handshape syllable
Starting character: any first letter except p followed by b,c,e,n
Uses: First letter of word shows the wide-hand handshape or both hands' matching handshape

bezi-uy = happy
open-B handshape be = open-B handshape
(presumed chest height)
z = on body (to chest)
i = palm facing in toward body
-u = move hand up
y = repeat movement (come back and move again)

cnzi-d = hungry
C handshape cn = C handshape
(presumed chest height)
z = on body (to chest)
i = palm facing in toward body
-d = move down

Base-hand* handshape syllable
Starting character: first letter of p followed by any letter
Uses: The P syllable represents a prefix for the base-hand using a different handshape than the wide-hand

Plr-xbs-tsy = word
1 handshape pl = base-hand 1 handshape (first finger extended flat with palm)
r- = base-palm facing wide side
G handshape xb = wide-hand G handshape (first finger and thumb bent)
(presumed chest height)
s = wide-hand palm facing base-side (across body)
-ts = move wide hand base-side (across body) to touch base-hand
y = repeat movement (come back and touch again)

pbu-aestd-ii = help me
open-B handshape pb = base-hand open-B handshape
u- = base-hand palm up
open-A handshape ae = wide-hand open-A handshape (all fingers closed to palm, thumb spread out)
(presumed chest height)
s = wide-hand palm facing base-side (across body)
td = wide-hand touching down on base-hand
-ii = both hands move in


* I use the words Wide and Base in place of the more technical terms "Dominant Hand" and "Non-Dominant Hand."  Most people use their right hand for the Wide-hand, and their left hand for the Base-hand.  Left-handed people use their left hand for the Wide-hand, and their right hand for the Base-hand.

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