If you do not see the fingerspelling handshapes above, try viewing this page in the latest Chrome, Firefox, or Safari browser.
Hey look! Handshapes!
The hand symbols above are part of a font called Symbol Font For ASL.
If you are a hearie, a deaf person or a Deaf person, you can probably Skip this section >>
If you find yourself asking "Why is Deaf capitalized?" then read on.
'D' is for Deaf Community
If you haven't heard of Deaf culture, click a few of the links below to get an introduction to the world of ASL.
Misconceptions about Deaf people and American Sign Language are sadly very common, and they can be the source of real struggle and injustice. Taking just a little time to find out more about the community and rich history behind this beautiful language is well worth the effort.
Did you know? (a.k.a. answers to common misconceptions)
- Deaf culture is not defined by hearing loss, but (like any culture) by shared experience, language, customs, politics, etiquette and community.
- Deaf people are proud to be Deaf!
- ASL is NOT universally understood; there are over 100 different Sign Languages
- ASL is not based on English, and British Sign Language is completely different (even the alphabet!)
- American Sign Language was NOT invented by someone
- "Do you know Braille?" gets asked a lot...
- Deaf Americans drive cars
- Most Deaf parents have hearing children; most Deaf children have hearing parents
- Many Deaf people have partial hearing
- Lip-reading is hard! On top of that, English is a difficult second language for anyone
- Some deaf children go to schools for the deaf, some attend regular public schools
- Gallaudet University (est. 1864) is officially bilingual (ASL and English)
- Audism (similar to racism) is discriminatory belief or action based on a person's ability to hear.
Within the Deaf community, the surrounding mainstream culture of non-Deaf Americans is referred to as "hearing culture".
American Sign Language
American Sign Language is not simply miming or fingerspelling English words. It is a real language with its own syntax, grammar, vocabulary and inflection. And it doesn't just involve your hands, but your whole body.
In spoken language meaning is primarily conveyed through the individual words chosen, and the order they are put into. It is linear. But in ASL, individual "signs" are only part of the information. Things like emotion, tone, nuance, time duration, pluralization, and even grammatical structure itself are all communicated through multiple things happening at the same time, in three dimensions!
American Sign Language is not a written language.
And like most languages, you can't learn it properly by just reading out of a book.
The best way to learn American Sign Language is to do two things (both of them):
- Take a class. Contact local community colleges, colleges, and universities to find out if they have classes in ASL. Contact local Deaf organizations to find out which schools they recommend.
- Get involved in the culture. Attend local Deaf events, meet people, practice your signing with others.
Your teacher will be able to help you find the best ways to get involved. Take their advice!
Learn the Alphabet
If you don't know the manual alphabet yet, looking at the letters in this font can help you, but it isn't the best way. (That's not what it is designed for.) The Gallaudet font is a lot clearer. A better way would be to learn from actual photographs of hands, but the best way (and the only way that can actually correct you if you are doing something wrong) is to learn from someone who knows ASL.
So what can I do with a fingerspelling font?
Not much, really. You can spell English words, look at the handshapes, and try to read them.
cat dog ball
But this is not ASL. This is English words in a hard-to-read font!
Is there a way to write ASL?
In my opinion, no, there isn't. Not yet.
The truth is, there at least eight different ways to write ASL! So why do I say "Not yet"? Because each of the writings systems that are out there is one way to write ASL. None of them is the way to write ASL.
You can write ASL any way you want - but it is only useful if someone else can understand what you wrote. If most signers of ASL don't use the writing system, then whatever you write will have a limited audience. Right now, March 13th, 2013, there isn't widespread agreement on an ASL writing system.
Some people think it is very important to have a way to write ASL.
Some people think it is not needed.
Why write ASL?
That is an important question, and an on-going discussion. But the purpose of this page is not to answer that question.
In the last 60 years, a handful of people have put a lot of effort into developing systems for writing ASL, and many people have found their systems to be useful. This project is about the writing systems themselves.