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:

fleshandbone Whats The Secret To ASL Digits?

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:

digitstructure Whats The Secret To ASL Digits?

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?

digitcomparison Whats The Secret To ASL Digits?

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!

asltextmay2014 Whats The Secret To ASL Digits?

How Do We “Juggle” in Written ASL?

digikatjuggling How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

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 150x150 How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?plus How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?digits2 How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?plus How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?movementmarks How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

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 How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

2) Digits

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

juggledigits How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

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.

jugglelines How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

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

juggleASL2 How Do We Juggle in Written ASL?

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!

valentinecardshalf1 300x231 Free Written ASL Valentines Day Cards!

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.

spaceexamples 300x231 Writing Space

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:

mmanswerkey Writing Space

Mapping Your ASL

As one of our New Year’s resolutions, ASLwrite would like to make it easier for you to learn written ASL! The following video is #4 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 joining us now, you can go back and start with Why Write American Sign Language?

Today, we’re putting together words using movement marks! Watch the video and read the text to get your assignment.


In the last couple videos, we covered the following portions: Handshapes/Digits and Palm Orientation/Diacritics. Today, we’ll be focusing on ASL sign movement, and the corresponding written movement marks.


What Are Movement Marks?

When you are travelling to an unfamiliar place, the first thing you might do is check a map. Many of you reach for your smartphone and open the maps app. In there, arrows show the route you need to take.

The same thing happens in written ASL. Movement marks show the direction handshapes tend to follow when signing a word.


The Paper Space

I’ve explained before that the signing space you use is mirrored on paper. If your hand goes into one direction, the digit also follows the same path. You do not write as if you are watching someone else sign when you are writing a sign within neutral space. You write from your perspective as a signer. Movement lines follow you within that space.

movement e1359057406531 272x300 Mapping Your ASL


Motion Lines

Movement marks have two parts. The first part is the motion line, and the second the endpoint.

motionline e1359057262619 300x55 Mapping Your ASL

How does this work? The space on paper follows the area in front of our body. Corresponding motion lines fan out within this horizontal space.

horizdiagram e1359057086953 300x147 Mapping Your ASL

Moving within vertical space requires a vertical mark.

vertdiagram e1359057467672 300x192 Mapping Your ASL

Motion lines can also be different shapes, depending on the word.

differentlines e1359056854707 300x214 Mapping Your ASL



A single dot at the end of a motion line serves as the “arrow” part. It points the direction the handshape(s) go. There are two variations in the endpoints: the “normal” dot, and the lined firmpoint. Firmpoints bring emphasis to how the word is signed.

endpoints e1359056988722 300x153 Mapping Your ASL

Also, motions can be repeated by adding more than one endpoint. This can correspond to a noun, verb, or repetitive motion.

multiendpoint Mapping Your ASL


Contact Points

If we take out a motion line, leaving only the endpoint, it becomes a contact point. This shows where the handshapes touch a body part. Take for example, “cookie” and “owe.”

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The body part can also be left out to show where the handshape touches an imaginary surface. “Click” is an example of this.

click e1359056748276 252x300 Mapping Your ASL


More Movement Marks

There are other ways to show movement marks, including with contraction and expanding marks. “Meet” and “disconnect” use those marks.

meet e1359057133330 300x171 Mapping Your ASL

disconnect e1359056948403 300x172 Mapping Your ASL

“Book” is a creative example of an expanding mark.

book e1359056695933 300x223 Mapping Your ASL


The Morphing Line

Motion lines have another purpose outside of mapping words. Sometimes a handshape changes in the course of the word. The morphing line facilitates this change.

morphing e1359057200876 300x126 Mapping Your ASL

Movement marks have many different functions — the above is a portion of the possibilities. For more in-depth information, check out How to Write American Sign Language.



Look in the ASL Writing Dictionary and practice writing your favorite words that have movement marks. Then, take movement marks out for a test drive with the following words:


Answer key will be posted soon. See you next time!

NEXT: Writing Space!

Answer Key to Move Your Digits:

answerkeydiacritics Mapping Your ASL

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