Move Your Digits

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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!

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