What’s The Secret To ASL Digits?

Snap on your steampunk goggles and zip up your adventuring coat as we plumb the mysterious depths of digits today!

Our ASL digibet continues to evolve with community use. The most effective digits share visible links to their connected handshapes. Take a look at this gentle dissection:

ASL handshape and digit

The “5” digit above has its “bones” within the visual structure of the hand. Each line within a digit is called a stroke. Here’s how the strokes of the digit work together:

Digit Stroke Structure

The main stroke is usually the first, large line that creates the body of the digit. When a handshape has more than one finger involved, the finger stroke shows their position. Finally, the chereme stroke establishes palm orientation for the hand. (It’s usually the thumb or the little finger.)

Now that we’ve covered the “bones” of a digit, are you able to see the connections between digits and handshapes below?

Digit Comparison

How is it that the digits and handshapes work together so well? Hold onto your fedoras — here’s where things get really interesting.

Good digit design follows three principles:

1) Visually evoke the handshape

A digit needs to be as close to the original ASL handshape as possible, without being too exact. The reason for this is when we are conversing in ASL, we don’t waste time figuring out what exactly that handshape is. We see it and then move on quickly.

2) 3 strokes or less

Efficient writing means less lines in the written shapes. The more strokes a digit has, the more it becomes drawing instead of writing.

3) Distinct, tested design

A digit should be obvious at any size, and clearly different from others in the digibet. If you have to squint and adjust your goggles, the digit’s dead. Thoroughly test both old and new ideas!

The above principles are the true secret of successful ASL digits. As written ASL continues to be used within the community, new ones will pop up and old ones will change. It’s the natural evolution of our language — and it can’t happen without an adventurous YOU. Come join the discussion at the ASLwrite Google Group!


How Do We “Juggle” in Written ASL?

Digikat juggling with written ASL for "juggle" in background

Do you know how to juggle in written ASL?

Don’t worry, anyone can do it! First, let’s gather all the ingredients:

Space + Digits + Movement Lines

Space outlineplusDigitsplusmovementmarks

How do the three ingredients come together? Easy! There’s only three steps in the directions:

1) Space

Go ahead and express the ASL word, “juggle!” Where are you signing? Do your hands contact your body? Your hands should be in the neutral space right in front of you, so we begin to write from our perspective as writers. This step is not actually written — it’s kept in your mind.

Space outline

2) Digits

Since our handshapes change during “juggle,” we need to write the first and last handshapes. The digits are shown below.

Digits for Juggling ASL word

3) Movement Marks

Here’s the secret sauce to this recipe! “Juggle” is a two-handed word, with alternating movements. We use the alternating mark on motion lines to show the turn-taking of our hands. Vertical marks demonstrate the up-and-down direction. Finally, endpoints tell us how many times the movements are done.

Juggling ASL word

Then bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes — no, we’re kidding! Go ahead and enjoy writing “juggle” right away!

ASL transcription of "Juggle" post

Click text to read at full size!

Free Written ASL Valentine’s Day Cards!

Stores this week are stocked full of Valentine’s Day cards to share with family and friends, but where are the cards in American Sign Language? How can we show affection to each other in a short, sweet note?

Maybe we could go look for the perfect spot with bright lighting where we can take out our expensive iPhones, and then immediately film a one-handed, shaky clip. After trimming and editing the clip we then get ready to send out an email — but wait! There was some spinach hanging off our finger. Time to start all over again —

Or we could simply print out the free Valentine’s Day cards below, write a tender message, and then put them where our family and friends can find them. There’s even a card where you can practice writing using fingerspelling — great for quick, secret notes!

Click to download JPG image.

Click to download JPG image.

Click here to download the PDF version of the cards.

Writing Space

As one of our New Year’s resolutions, ASLwrite is making it easier for you to learn written ASL! The following video is #5 in our 6-week course in written ASL featured here on the website, Twitter, and Facebook. It’s a great complement to the How to Write American Sign Language book!

If you’re just popping in now, you can go back and start with Why Write American Sign Language?

Today we have a special message. Let’s put aside the 5 parts of ASL for a moment and discuss writing space.

In order for us to translate 3-dimensional space into a 2-dimensional format, we need to be wise with how we arrange things on paper. In written ASL, the signing space corresponds with written space. We need to make sure that it’s clear in writing.


The Two Spaces

There are two kinds of written space: Neutral and Locative. Our course so far has taken place within neutral space, from the signer’s perspective. Locative space is a perspective outside the body, as if one were watching the signer. (It’s also called the 3rd person perspective.) We will go in-depth with locative marks next.

Let’s take a look at why locative space is important. Words such as tomorrow, tend, and smart are connected to the body. If we focus on the handshapes and motions alone, the words do not have meaning.

Locative Space Examples

As you see, some words need locatives to be understood. That’s why we have neutral space and locative space.

See you next time!



Your assignment is to look through the ASL Writing Dictionary at http://aslwrite.com/dictionary and find at least 5 words that use neutral and locative space. Compare the words and figure out what part of the body the locatives represent.

NEXT: Locatives!


Answer Key to Mapping Your ASL:


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