The Blueprint for Written ASL Words

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Building Written ASL Words

Now that we’ve covered the five steps to writing ASL, let’s look at how to build a written ASL word. It may seem complicated now, but as you gain more experience in writing it will become second nature.

Blueprint for Written ASL

Click to view larger image.

The above diagrams show how effectively paper is used to compress the three-dimensional space of signing. Using the area wisely will help with comprehension. The next two sections will focus on how to write a word in neutral and locative space.

A Word In Neutral Space

When you are writing ASL words, the default position should be from your viewpoint as a writer (neutral space). The photographs below are a reference for you to sign the word yourself, not the view that the word should be written in.

Let’s begin with the word “support.”

Support - Photo

The ASL word “support.”

This is how we determine the space that “support” will be written in. Notice how the movement of the ASL word and the handshapes aren’t as clear in profile space?

Support - Space

Left – Neutral Space. Right – Locative Space.

Since we have determined the best space to write the word “support” – we now move to choosing the digit.

Support - Digits

Choosing the digits for the word “support.”

Does “support” need a locative? No, because the word does not make contact with the body, as shown in the image above. Adding a locative would be an inefficient use of writing time.

Support - Locative

Choosing whether to write the word with or without a locative.

Most ASL words have an endpoint after the motion line. In the rare case of emphasis or speed, a firmpoint is used. This word was not given an emphasis, so it retains the endpoint.

Support - Point

Deciding which point to use with the motion line.

However, as you can see here, the signer’s eyebrows are raised. That serves as either emphasis or topicalization.

Support - Eyebrows

Adding emphasis to the word, “support.”

Now we have our final written ASL word.

Support - Final

The final written word for “support.”

A Locative Space Word

As discussed before, locative space contains a third-person view. It is a good fit for words that go outward or across the body. The word we have chosen as an example is “thank you.”

Thank You

“Thank you” in ASL.

First, we pick the appropriate digit for the handshape.

Thank You - Digit

Picking the digit.

Next, we choose the locative that shows the body part that the word is anchored to.

Thank You - Locative

Choosing the locative.

Now we have the final written ASL word for “thank you.” It’s a word that is used very often in writing!

Thank You - Final

The final written ASL word for “thank you”


Identify and break down the following neutral space words:

Practice - Neutral Space

Write the following neutral space words in ASL:

One Dollar

Identify and break down the following locative space words:

Practice - Locative Space

Write the following locative space words in ASL:

Gut Feeling

Next: Composition

Answer Key:

Answer Key - Neutral Space Words

Answer Key - Neutral

Answer Key - Locative Space Words

Answer Key - Locatives

Model: Amber Zion.

Photographs © Julia Dameron and Erik Call.

The ASLwrite Community has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to the text and method of written ASL contained on this website and How We Write American Sign Language. In releasing copyright, we ask that written ASL be respected as the domain of the American Sign Language-speaking community and that it be given all the rights and privileges that written English enjoys.

This work is published from the United States.

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