Can You Identify These Sign Language Letters and Words?

By: Jacqueline Samaroo
Image: media library

About This Quiz

LET'S SIGN! American Sign Language (ASL) is an extremely complex language that is a combination of hand movements and facial expressions. There are thousands of different gestures and signs that are part of it! Can you identify the sign language letters and words?

American Sign Language was created around the early 1800s and heavily influenced by French Sign Language. Even though it was created in 1817, it would take over 100 years before it was recognized as a "true" language. Since it is called "American" sign language, you might think the it follows the flow of common American grammar. You'd be wrong! As if it wasn't challenging enough, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders says that ASL "has its own rules for pronunciation, word order, and complex grammar."

It's clear to see that ASL is an extremely complicated language which is why it is encouraged for children to begin learning it as young as possible. If you're here to take this quiz, it's clear you started learning some ASL eventually. When did you begin and how much do you know?

Could you recognize the 26 signs for the alphabet? Could you recognize phrases like "I love you" or words like "please?" There's only one way to find out!

Put your ASL skills to the test and let's see if you can identify these sign language letters and words!

American Sign Language (ASL) is a complex language. It uses hand signs along with facial expressions and body movements to convey meaning.

American Sign Language (ASL) is used by the majority of deaf persons in the U.S., as well as in most of the English-speaking areas of Canada. There are also sign language variations in several other countries around the world which are based on ASL.

ASL is used by many non-deaf persons. For example, hearing persons in homes with a deaf person are often fluent in ASL. Some persons who can hear, but not speak, also make use of ASL.

The number of ASL users within the U.S. has been estimated to be in the region of 500, 000. Some researchers, however, put the number at about half of that, with the minimum figure being around 100, 000.

American Sign Language (ASL) is described as a natural or ordinary language. Just like all major spoken languages in the world, ASL was developed naturally through repeated use, without any form of planning for its structures.

ASL originated in the American School for the Deaf (ASD) located in West Hartford, Connecticut. While the ASD (founded in 1817) was not the first school for the deaf in the U.S., it is currently the oldest one still in operation.

ASL is just one of several sign languages used around the world. Many of these styles developed independently of each other, and so they share minimal signs in common. ASL does, however, have a connection to Old French Sign Language (LSF).

Laurent Clerc, a deaf Frenchman, was one of the founders of the American School for the Deaf (ASD), where ASL began. As a result, there are some common vocabulary terms between ASL and LSF (Old French Sign Language).

Apart from the influence of Old French Sign Language, the birth of ASL is also rooted in the home sign systems brought by students to the American School for the Deaf (ASD). Village sign languages from the communities around the school also had a role to play in the emergence of ASL.

Home sign systems are often developed by deaf children of hearing parents. In the absence of structured instruction in sign language, they tend to come up with their own unique set of signs with which to communicate. Home sign language is also referred to as kitchen sign.

Village sign language is sometimes simply called village sign. It is the sign language that is indigenous to an area with a high number of persons who are born deaf.

American English is described as a variation of British English. Many persons who are unfamiliar with sign language are therefore surprised to learn that American Sign Language has very little in common with British Sign Language.

Black American Sign Language is one variation of ASL, and it is noted for its distinctiveness. Black ASL’s uniqueness among other forms of ASL is thought to have developed as a result of the racial segregation which existed in schools.

Similar to the coined term “Auslan” for Australian Sign Language, the term “Ameslan” was once used for American Sign Language. The term is now seldom used, with the initials ASL being the preferred (if not official) abbreviation for the language.

ASL has the unique trait of being used over a wide geographical area. In many other countries, there is a higher incidence of variation in the sign languages used.

The widespread use of ASL throughout the U.S. has frequently been attributed to the influence of the American School for the Deaf (ASD). The ASD has been instrumental in the setting up of similar schools across the country.

Some of the credit for the prevalence of ASL can be given to the growth in the number of organizations focused on issues affecting the deaf community. Such groups will often foster interactions among persons from different regions of the country.

One form of sign language which has emerged in several locations around the world is deaf-community sign language. It arises when deaf persons from different areas are brought together, and naturally develop a general sign language to communicate with each other.

International Sign is a simplified form of sign language, with a limited vocabulary. It is often used in formal international meetings of deaf people, including the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Congress.

International Sign is commonly referred to as Gestuno. It also goes by several other names, including International Gesture, International Sign Pidgin and International Sign Language.

Researchers often advise that deaf children should be taught to be bilingual. That is, from an early age, they should be exposed to both English (or whatever the spoken language is in their country) and sign language.

ASL is visual language and needs the facial expressions and body movements of the signer to convey the full meaning. Signing without these will not only look unnatural but will be difficult to understand.

Fingerspelling (sometimes written as finger spelling) is the use of standardized finger positions to spell out individual letters and to show numbers. Another name for fingerspelling is dactylology.

In its simplest form, fingerspelling involves tracing letters in the air or on someone’s hand. Other forms use either one-handed or two-handed signs for the letters.

Fingerspelling typically involves using the hand or hands to make the shape of a letter (or a close representation of the letter). This practice is found in both one-handed and two-handed fingerspelling.

ASL signers use a one-handed form of fingerspelling called the American Manual Alphabet (AMA). Some letters, such as D and M, have slight variations used in more informal settings.

In ASL, where fingerspelling is done with just one hand, the letters J and Z involve movement. For both letters, the signer traces the shape in the air.

BANZSL (British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language) uses two-handed fingerspelling. Signers of the BANZSL alphabet are allowed to use their dominant hand as the leading hand as they spell.

In the British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZSL) fingerspelling alphabet, only the letter C is formed using one hand. All other letters typically require the use of both hands.

In BANZSL fingerspelling, signs for the vowels A, E, I, O and U are all related. They are signed by pointing at the fingertips, beginning with the tip of the thumb for letter A and ending with the tip of the littlest finger for the letter U.

Fingerspelling speed and understanding both increase with practice. It will often take several years before someone learning a sign language can maintain eye contact with a signer while interpreting letters being signed in their peripheral vision.

Signers in some sign languages naturally use fast and fluid motions when fingerspelling. The person reading the signs can decipher the spelled word as a whole unit if they are fluent in the language. Persons new to signing may have to ask the signer to slow down.

Not all sign languages use fast signing in fingerspelling. In Italian Sign Language, for example, fingerspelling is almost always done slowly.

Persons wishing to learn fingerspelling have a wide range of resources to take advantage of. There are instructional books, videos and even downloadable apps.

Fingerspelling is typically used for spelling or initializing the proper names of people and places. It may also be used by someone who does not know the sign for a particular word or phrase.

According to the National Association of the Deaf, ASL has attained the status of “foreign” language in some academic institutions. It has become possible for students to study it in fulfillment of their modern and foreign language requirement when attaining their degrees.

Lowercase “deaf” is normally used when referring to the inability to hear. Uppercase “Deaf” is normally used when referring to someone who is deaf, as in “the Deaf Community.”

The term “hard of hearing” typically refers to someone with mild to moderate hearing loss. These persons may or may not regard themselves as members of the deaf community.

According to the American Association of the Deaf, persons who are deaf or hard of hearing prefer those two terms to the various others that have been used throughout history. Those include “deaf-mute”, “deaf and dumb” and even the more recent “hearing impaired.”

The last full week in September each year is celebrated as the International Week of the Deaf. It runs from Monday to Sunday, with the Sunday designated as the International Day of the Deaf.

International Week of the Deaf is observed globally. It is spearheaded by the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) with the United Nations joining in as a collaborator.

The World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) has approximately 130 affiliated national associations of the deaf. Its headquarters is in Helsinki, Finland.

Fun Fact: The WFD was founded in 1951. Since then, it has organized the World Congress of the WFD every four years in different host countries.

The World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) was established in 2003 at the 14th World Congress of the WFD. Its aim is to promote sign language interpretation as a profession.

The National Association of the Deaf shares on its website that over 40 states in the U.S give ASL official recognition as a language. The site also shares that scholarly journals publish research into ASL on a regular basis.

The ASLTA (American Sign Language Teachers Association) was formed in 1975. It is a national and professional organization made up of teachers of ASL and Deaf Studies.

Sutton SignWriting is another writing system for sign languages. It was created by American dancer Valerie Sutton who had developed DanceWriting a couple of years earlier.

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