Solving the Mystery of Locatives

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When learning a new language, sometimes we feel like a detective trying to solve the mystery of how a language works.

In written ASL, the digibet and locatives are the most commonly used marks. Knowing them will speed up your time in learning written ASL.


Now imagine you’re walking down the street, deep in ASL conversation with a friend. The two of you are moving at a distance between each other.

The signing space right in front of you is called neutral space. When you write, you write from your perspective as a signer. Many words stay within this space, but sometimes your handshapes bump your shoulder, chin, or other body part. When this happens, the body location distinguishes the meaning of your handshape. You have gone into locative space.

If you want to write down the ASL words that connect to your body, use special marks called locatives.

Anatomy of ASL Locatives

The above picture is an “anatomy chart” for written ASL. Please do feel free to click and print it out!

The movement lines in locative space do not follow your actual motions like in neutral space. They are written in the third-person perspective (also the perspective of your conversing friend).

Below are a few words that show how each mark is used.

(Note from Adrean: My special tool for digital writing broke, so for a few weeks I will be writing on note-lined paper. I have an “artistic” handwriting so if anything’s not clear, please do comment below or email me!)

Profile Locative Examples

Hello in written ASL

“Hello” uses the Face and Forehead to Nose locatives.

"Kid" in Written ASL

The ASL word “kid” can easily be written with the Nose locative.

"Will" in written ASL

“Will” or “shall” is a great example of how locatives can completely change the meaning of a digit. The face and nose-to-chin locatives are written here.

"Put it in Back of Mind" in Written ASL

If you have an idea that you’d like to store for a while, use the Back of Head locative. It’s also the “home” of your subconscious.

"Feel" in Written ASL

“Feel” makes contact with the Torso locative. Notice how the size can expand or contract depending on what you are comfortable with.

"Arrow to Knee" in Written ASL

If you have a war story, then describe taking an arrow with the Knee locative. (A little something for Skyrim fans. :) )

Frontal Locative Examples

"President" in Written ASL

“President” makes use of the Forehead frontal locative.

"Dry" in Written ASL

The Chin locative works great with “dry.”

"Stuck" in Written ASL

“Stuck” is written with the Neck locative.

"Our" in Written ASL

Written ASL belongs to “our” community! Use the Shoulders locative to fill in the word. (It can be split into half if the sign only contacts one side.)

"Time" in Written ASL

The Arm/Wrist locative helps establish the word “time.”

"Long Shirt" in Written ASL

Wearing a shirt that’s too long at the torso? Describe it using the Waist locative.

For in-depth information on movement space and locatives, check out How to Write American Sign Language!

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