How to Write Your Sign Language

The Adreanaline blog recently posted a new comic, in written American Sign Language and written French Sign Language. Which brings up an interesting question:

How can written ASL support other sign languages and still allow them to stand on their own?

The answer is actually easier than one might think. Let’s break down the components:

Signed ASL Written ASL
Handshapes Digits
Palm Orientation Diacritics (and more)
Movement Movement Marks
Location Locatives
Non-Manual Signals Extramanual Marks

Those components are shared with all sign languages. What sets American Sign Language apart from French Sign Language and others is the collection of handshapes/digits and how they are used when conversing. If we let go of that structure and borrow the underlying principles from each written component, we can then create a custom solution for any sign language.

Example of Written ASL and Written LSF

In the case of LSF, the handshapes used in French signs had corresponding digits in the ASL digibet. That is how it was possible for the l’Épée comic to make the leap from ASL to LSF, and leave the integrity of French Sign Language intact.

Remember each sign language has their own “library” of handshapes, so new digits (and possibly other marks) will need to be created to fit the language. Finding the common elements between ASL and your sign language can lead to a completely new written language, because the underlying principles are the same.

We will continue to explore this and more in future articles. Subscribe today to get them in your inbox!

Art’Pi needs your help with producing their commemorative issue on l’Épée’s 300th birthday — If you enjoyed the comics and this article, donate today!

Getting Started On How to Write ASL

HWASL Books Congratulations, you’ve received your very own copy of How to Write American Sign Language and you’re eager to write now! Here are a few tips on getting started:

Look through the pictures

How to Write American Sign Language is full of illustrations and writing. Look at the first few pages of each chapter to get an idea of the contents.

Play games with the digibet

The digibet is the key to deciphering written ASL. Once you’ve memorized them, it is easier to figure out what sign is written on the page. Some ideas for memorizing the digibet: Create a digibet story using the handshapes, give each digit a personality (add whiskers and a tail to them, even!), print out the digibet and stick them on your fridge.

Take each chapter one at a time

Each chapter in How to Write American Sign Language has 5 pages of blank paper for you to write in. Be patient as you work on the principles in each chapter and practice writing the words. In time it comes naturally.

Find a writing buddy

This is very important, especially if you want to accelerate your fluency. Find a friend to write back and forth with — can be in-person or online! For emails, a quick way to write is to use a tablet like the iPad and a drawing app. The ASLwrite Writing Group is also a good place to post your work for feedback.

Remember your purpose for writing!

What made you order How to Write American Sign Language in the first place? Is it a desire to be fluent in ASL, a wish to preserve our cultural heritage? Hold that spark in your heart while you grow as a writer!

5 Easy ASL Words to Write Today

Eager to start writing ASL? Here are 5 words to cut your teeth on — with animated hints to help you remember them!

Hello in written ASL with illustration
Hello” is almost always written when opening a letter or email.

Yes in written ASL with illustration
One of the best words to sign — “Yes” opens up lots of opportunities!

No in written ASL with illustration
Sometimes it’s good to say “No,” such as when you’re absolutely full and one more brownie would make you explode.

You and Me in written ASL with illustration
The words “You” and “Me” are the same, with a single change in direction.

Love in written ASL with illustration
Combine the previous “You” and “Me” with “Love“, and you have a perfect note to leave for your sweetheart today!

Want to learn more about written ASL? Check out How to Write American Sign Language!

Are ASL Memes Possible?

The internet is filled to the brim with memes — images that capture elements of pop culture and cram them into a single chuckle-inducing package. Usually those images have brief text that delivers a knockout punch.

The idea is fantastic, but what about deaf culture and American Sign Language? Can we fit that in the small space of a meme?

Even Boromir knows this is a challenge:

Boromir meme

To create signing community memes, perhaps we can look at the deaf schools for inspiration. Kids tend to develop their own unique signs or phrases in a rich signing environment. A possible example is the English gloss “258” for “very interesting”:


It’s fun to have both languages stand side-by-side —

but what if we took it one step further?

It’s easy to add written ASL to pictures. Use Photoshop or a free image editor like GIMP, and put a stroke around your writing to make it pop out from the background.

There are few things like the feeling of a finished meme:

So, let your creativity roar. Maybe it’ll even win presidential approval!

Let us know on Twitter or Facebook if you create any ASL memes – we’d love to share them!

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