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: ', q
Uses: Body tilt, eye gaze, speed, head nod / shake

'r = looking and signing to the wide* side
'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 = fingerspelled letters S, O, O, N

wznm-VP = Vice President
w = English word indicator
znm = hand placed on wide* side of forehead
-VP = fingerspelled 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)

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

jbonuu-tdy = money
jb = base* hand open-B handshape
on = wide* hand O handshape (four fingers together and bent, first finger touching thumb)
uu = base and wide hand palms facing up
-td = move wide hand to touch down onto base hand
y = repeat the movement (tap several times)


Location syllable
Starting characters: n,p,z
Uses: Wide* hand location relative to body

bens-oy = lecture
be = open-B handshape (base hand is not used)
n = hand is forehead high on wide side (the wide hand's own side)
s = palm facing base side
o = move hand out toward audience
y = repeat

onpi-my = food
on = O handshape (base hand is not used)
p = hand is chin high on wide side (the wide hand's own side)
i = palm facing in toward body
-m = move hand onto body
y = repeat


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

beo-o = yours
be = open-B handshape
o = palm facing out toward audience
-o = move hand out toward audience

lns-o = you
ln = 1 handshape
s = palm facing base side
-o = move hand out toward audience


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

beddtu-o = enter
be = base and wide hands open-B handshapes
dd = base and wide palms facing down
tu = wide hand touches up to base hand
-o = move wide hand out

ceddxu-sy = above
ce = base and wide hands open-C handshapes (four fingers and thumb spread apart flat with palm)
dd = base and wide palms facing down
xu = wide hand farther up from base hand
-s = move wide hand to base side
y = repeat movement

Wide* hand handshape syllable
Starting character: any letter
Uses: First letter of word shows the wide hand handshape or both hands' matching handshape

bemi-uy = happy
be = open-B handshape
m = hand on chest
i = palm facing in toward body
-u = move hand up
y = repeat movement

cnmi-d = hungry
cn = C handshape
m = hand on chest
i = palm facing in toward body
-d = move down

Base* hand handshape syllable
Starting character: j
Uses: The J syllable represents a prefix for the base hand using a different handshape than the wide hand

jlxbrs-tsy = word
jl = base hand 1 handshape (first finger extended flat with palm)
xb = wide hand bent-X handshape (first finger and thumb bent)
rs = base palm facing wide side, wide palm facing base side
-ts = move wide hand to touch base side to the base hand
y = repeat movement

jb-ae-hus-td-vii = help me
jb = base hand open-B handshape
ae = wide hand open-A handshape (all fingers closed to palm, thumb spread out)
us = base palm facing up, wide palm facing base side
td = wide hand touch down to the base hand down
-ii = base and wide hand move in toward body


* 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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