Archive of ‘Digibet’ category

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!


Move Your Digits

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 #3 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’re adding motion to your handshapes through diacritics! Watch the video and read the text to get your assignment.


How Do ASL Handshapes Move?

Last week we discussed the 5 parts of ASL. We talked about ASL handshapes and examined the written ASL equivalent – digits. In this installment we’ll cover the next part, palm orientation and diacritics.

When we sign, our handshapes aren’t frozen in space. They move around at the wrist joint, flutter through the fingers, and face different directions. We write this through diacritics, a special class of marks that add wrist motion, finger movement, and palm orientation to digits.

5 Diacritics

The above are the 5 diacritics: hinge, rotational, rattle, flutter, and edge diacritics. We will discuss each one in turn.


Hinge Diacritic


The wrist movement for this diacritic is similar to how a door moves on its hinges, hence its name. For this to be written, the wrist motion of handshapes are directly left to right and front to back.


Rotational Diacritic


When the handshapes swivel around on the wrist, a rotational diacritic is written. The motion is almost similar to a Lazy Susan.

The secret to knowing when to write a hinge or a rotational diacritic is to feel the bones of the forearm. If they twist across each other when you sign the word, then it calls for a rotational diacritic.


Rattle Diacritic


Sometimes we shake our hands like a rattle, and this diacritic comes in. Placement of the mark is also very important, as putting it near a finger means that the single finger moves.


Flutter Diacritic


Our fingers wiggle, or flutter when we sign “snow.” This motion is written using the flutter diacritic.


Edge Diacritic


This diacritic is unique in that it shows palm orientation rather than motion. Adding a line near the digit means that the handshape set on “edge.” This line is either below or to the left/right of the digit.

Those are the five diacritics. We’ll look into adding more movement to handshapes through movement marks in the next video.



Look around the ASL Writing Dictionary for words that use diacritics. Write out a few of your favorites.

Then, figure out how to write the following words:


Answers are at the end of the next post. See you next time!

NEXT: Mapping Your ASL!

The ASL Digibet

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 #2 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 digging into the structure of written ASL! Feel free to watch the video or read the text.


How Do We Sign ASL?

We’re used to signing every day, but we usually don’t give much thought to how we are able to express ourselves in American Sign Language. How is it possible for us to express our words?

We do that through the unique way it is structured. ASL has five parts:

  • Handshapes
  • Palm Orientation
  • Movement
  • Spatial Orientation
  • Extramanual Signals (also known as Non-manual Signals)

For each of the 5 parts of expressive ASL, written ASL has its own counterpart. We will go through each in order throughout this course.



In this installment, we are focusing on the first component of ASL. The basic building blocks of our language are handshapes, and their written counterparts are digits.

Right Hand 5 and Digit

If you ask a signer what handshapes are, they will usually give you examples from the manual alphabet. That actually belongs to English. ASL has over 60 unique handshapes, which can be difficult to memorize all at once.


The Digibet

In order to make it easier to start learning handshapes and their corresponding digits, we’ve created a digibet. It has 30 of the most commonly used handshapes, sequenced in a memorizable order.


The full 60+ handshapes are still represented in the extended digibet. (Both digibets can be downloaded here.)

The sign name “5SG” for the digibet comes from the extended digibet. It is organized into 3 categories: Open, Closed, and Mixed handshapes. The first digit of each category is represented in the name sign.


Identifying Handedness

Written ASL for the most part reflects our perspective as signers. The paper we write on becomes a “carbon copy” of ourselves. For this reason digits have both left-handed and right-handed versions, also helping with identifying palm orientation.




For today’s assignment, start writing out the digits and memorizing the digibet. Use creative mediums to explore the shapes and writing structure. Draw a picture that incorporates your writing — experiment with left- and right-handed digits. Create a digibet story, even!

NEXT: Move Your Digits!

Do You Know Your Digibet?

We’ve created a video that explains the ASL digibet. In a nutshell:

– A digit represents a handshape.

– The ASL digibet collects 30 of the most commonly used handshapes.

– More digits are in the extended digibet, because they are either specialized in their usage and/or infrequently used. (This extended digibet may change over time.)

The digibet and the extended digibet are also available for download here.

Many thanks to Julia Dameron and Erik Call for their excellent work on the handshape photographs!

Preorders for How to Write American Sign Language will end this Friday, July 27.

Reserve your copy today and get 20% off!

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