ASL Orthography

Note that I have only listed handshapes used in ASL words. There are other handshapes, such as the 7 handshape. It's a legitimate shape, but I don't think any ASL words use it. Please correct me if I'm mistaken!

Pure Shapes

1

3

4

5

8

A

B

C

D

E

F

G

I

K

L

M

N

O

R

S

T

U

V

W

X

Y

Blended Shapes

Combinations of two pure handshapes.

3C

4C

5C

5G

78

8D

8L

AG

AL

AX

BG

BL

CL

FG

FO

FX

GC

HG

IL

OE

VC

XL


Writing ASL

Meaning, writing ASL sentences, not just handshapes. Writing handshapes is cake, like writing English sounds. See above for handshapes.

Okay, how about writing the ASL language? Sure, it's doable. If Chinese writing can flourish, anything is possible. Hey, I like the Chinese, but their writing system is insane! Ever seen a Chinese typewriter? Ach du lieber! (I hasten to add that I do like the way Chinese looks.)

Anyway, I'm going to put my ASL chicken scratches out on the web. Please send me your comments. I'm hacking this out in public, so if you see something weird, please wait a day or two before commenting. But I do want your comments.

Btw, I'm not claiming to have any special qualifications to do this. I'm not even fluent in ASL (yet). I merely suffer from a love of languages and writing systems.

Requirements/Philosophy

Meaning, what are the problems that may arise with a new orthography, and how can we prevent or solve them? How can the orthography bring the most benefit with the least effort? How much to aesthetic considerations overrule pratical ones? Okay, we've scratched the surface.

Word Construction

I decided to use a "place value" approach. Like numbers, ASL words require that certain items occur at certain locations. Also, the use of defaults is very important. If a component does not appear, a default value is assumed. This keeps the orthography relatively simple (I hope).

I use a word/hand/syllable taxonomy. Words are composed of one or two hands. A hand consists of one or more syllables. Everything is described below, starting with some examples.

Examples

In the hope that I've come up with something remotely intuitive, I decided to put the examples before the syntactic explanations. You'll want to check out the handshapes above before looking over the examples.

Of course, I don't consider this a finished product. ASL may not ever be written in my lifetime. But I do hope that I am able to make a contribution. ASL is a beautiful language and deserves to have a wider audience.

Each example contains the ASL writing, an English transliteration, and an English translation.

<W'o'o''        ,vY=|,^B     i<BL:-iAL,
Washington      New York     prefer-right
I prefer Washington to New York.

iY,        vO:s^O:)   i5,c,,        ^O'c<O@:       vX==     >1'
Telephone  number     woman-right   right-give-me  should   it-right
The woman should give me the telephone number.

iAL,ciAL,,  v5~'-,   :1@  i<5,-iO,,  ^X-%.y
Tomorrow    snow     I    go-away   skiing
If it snows tomorrow, I'm going skiing.

>1' >K=      CL@'  5-S%
It  kitchen  have  milk
There is milk in the kitchen.

vSoo.)  <3           .<3          >3,          .,>3
Bicycle <classifier;> <classifier;> <classifier;> <classifier;>
There are bicycles all over the place.

5~'c,/vB,         '<4c,<4.,<4      vB:c:,.vB:   vV@:/vB:
Trees-down-right  fence-down-left  hill-middle  person-on-hill
There were trees down the right, a fence down the left, and a hill
in the middle.

.>;1c:,               i<;Y:      vVC,,-:
person-go-down-hill  suddenly  animal-from-right
The person started down the hill, when suddenly, an animal appeared
from the trees on the right.

.>;1c*,,>1           'vKs'^K/,<;4
person-swerve-left  person-over-fence
The person swerved to the left and fell over the fence.

Notation

The description below is not rigorous -- nonsensical combinations are permitted, and more is allowed than is implied by the notation. I didn't want to get bogged down in notational issues. The logic (I hope!) should be apparent from the examples. I'll try to clean it up as I go along.

Any vagueness is probably purposeful, but feel free to ask.

Syllables

General notes:

ANCHOR
<default> body
i face

LOCATION
<default> natural location for the hand
: (colon) along centerline
, (comma) low or out or low-out
,, lower or more-out or more-lower-out
,,, even lower or even-more-out or even-more-lower-out
' (apostrophe) high or out or high-out
'' higher or more-out or more-higher-out
''' even higher or even-more-out or even-more-higher-out

ORIENTATION
<default> The natural direction for the hand in question.
^ up
v down
< in
> out

SHAPE
<from the list of pictures above>
NOTE: Shapes are always written uppercase

QUALITY
~ shaken or wiggled
@ curled (wrist)
= doubled

Hands

The basic form of a hand is

<syllable><motion><character><special> [<syllable><motion><character><special> ... ]

Motion
- unspecified
c arc
o circle
s twist
z oscillation
x cross

Character
* emphasis

Special
% repeat all syllables back to start or back to previous %.

Words

Some would say "signs", but I'm a fan of plain English, so I'll say things like "ASL words" and "ASL speakers" even though ASL has signs and signers. Why draw attention to differences in the physical natures of different languages? Language structure is more important than language transmission medium. A single language may be transmitted over multiple media.

General notes:

The basic ASL word forms are:
<hand> one-handed, strong hand
.<hand> one-handed, weak hand
<hand><relation><hand> two-handed
<hand><relation><complement> two-handed, similarly-shaped

Relation
. unspecified
+ crossing arms or hands
| palms facing each other
/ strong over weak
\ weak over strong
Complement
y same
) mirror

Miscellany

Issues


Travis Low