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What is Fingerspelling


Lead Academy

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You might have seen different hand movements for communicating with deaf people, ever wondered how those movements convey messages? If you are curious to know more, go through this blog, “What is Fingerspelling”, and find out all the niceties of this spelling method.
Hands Demonstrating Fingerspelling

What is Fingerspelling?

Fingerspelling, also known as dactylology, is the method of spelling words using hand movements. The fingerspelling alphabet is a part of sign language and is used to spell out names of people and places for which there is no sign. Fingerspelling is also used to clarify a sign to the person who is unable to read the signer.

The manual alphabets (also known as finger alphabets) have often been used in deaf education and thus became a distinct part of several sign languages, such as The British Sign Language (BSL), The American Sign Language (ASL) and so on.

American Sign Language Alphabet


British Sign Language Alphabet

British Sign Language uses a two-handed alphabet, whereas American Sign Language, French Sign language and Irish Sign language uses a one-handed alphabet.

Fingerspelling Vs Sign Language:

Sign language and Fingerspelling are often considered the same but differences exist between them.

Fingerspelling involves spelling out the letters of the alphabet. It is not a language of its own and does not have grammatical structures and syntaxes. On the other hand, sign language uses hand movements, facial expressions, and body language to communicate.

We cannot use fingerspelling as a substitute for sign language. It is used in signing but only for words that do not have a sign or when it is unknown.

It is not possible to use fingerspelling as the primary method of communication of the deaf because it would take hours to communicate a few minute message through fingerspelling. As such, sign language is far more effective than fingerspelling for communication.

Types of Fingerspelling:

Neutral Fingerspelling

Neutral Fingerspelling is commonly fingerspelled English words, such as proper nouns (e.g. names of people, cities, companies, brand names, and technical terms). L2 learners of ASL, including classroom teachers, tend to use this type of fingerspelling.

Lexicalised Fingerspelling

Lexicalised fingerspelling is when fingerspelling has morphed into an articulatory bundle and has become more similar to a single sign than a string of letters. Commonly referred to as loan signs, these signs sometimes omit letters while others blend the handshapes seamlessly. Lexicalised fingerspelled signs include nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunctions, interjections and wh-words.

blog-star Can I learn sign language on my own?

The answer is a big yes! Yes, you can easily learn sign language on your own and that too from the comfort of your home. You only have to join the online British Sign Language courses offered by Lead Academy and become a certified BSL teacher.

The 3 Cs of fingerspelling


This is the handshapes that make up the word and the smooth twisting motion that leads one shape to the next.


Filling in partial and or missing letters based on the topic or one’s knowledge of English.


It is the knowledge of the word order, the situation, and the topic of conversation. These three things allow one to anticipate what will be fingerspelled.

Need for Fingerspelling Skill

It is a common belief that fingerspelling is mostly used by deaf people, whereas it is used by other people as well. Fingerspelling skill is essential for-

  • Interpreters of sign languages
  • Parents and teachers of deaf children
  • Providers of deaf social services
  • Vocational rehabilitation counsellors working with deaf clients

Uses of Fingerspelling

  • Fingerspelling occurs in ASL and BSL in specific places and with specific purposes. One of the uses is conveying proper nouns, i.e. names of people, places, organisations, etc.
  • Another use of fingerspelling is to convey technical terms borrowed from English or other languages that use the Roman alphabet. The American manual alphabet can be used to spell words from languages such as French, Spanish, and Italian. In ASL, you can spell the words like mesa, crepe, and cappuccino.
  • To put emphasis or clarify a particular sign, we use fingerspelling. Fingerspelled words of this type usually have a sign of approximately equal meaning, yet the signer will prefer to fingerspell the term for emphasis. Examples of signs fingerspelled for emphasis are #FUN, #WHAT.
  • Lexicalised signs use fingerspelling. Lexicalised words borrowed from English into ASL later undergo a systematic transformation in the form and meaning. Examples of lexicalised signs are #JOB, #BACK, etc.

Check out our other blog, “What are the Advantages of British Sign Language – 20 Advantages of BSL!

The Four Rules of Fingerspelling

  • Use your dominant hand

When fingerspelling, use your right hand as the dominant hand if you are right handed, and vice versa if you are left-handed.

  • Sign in front of your shoulder

While fingerspelling alphabets, your palm should face out and be in the shoulder area to make it easy for the viewer to watch the signs.

  • Double letters: Repeat a little to the side

During fingerspelling, double letters, such as r’s in the word ‘hurry,’ make movement between two r’s. You can either move your fingers sideways or move up and down to make the repeated signs understandable.

Check our other blog, “Alphabet in Sign Language – Video & Image Include.

  • Do not bounce hands/arms

You should not bounce your hands or arms while fingerspelling. Bouncing can disrupt clear communication.

Check this video for a better understanding of the rules.

How to fingerspell BSL alphabets?

How to Fingerspell A in British Sign Language

A: Touch the thumb of your non-dominant hand with the index finger of your dominant hand to sign A. Keep facing the rest of your fingers upward and spread out.

How to Fingerspell B in British Sign Language

B: Put all your fingers on both hands together and make the binocular shape to form B.

How to Fingerspell C in British Sign Language

C: Curl your thumb and index finger whilst folding the other fingers inward to sign the letter C.

How to Fingerspell D in British Sign Language

D: Point upwards with your non-dominant hand with your index finger and make the sign of C with your dominant hand touching the index finger to sign D

How to Fingerspell E in British Sign Language

E: Touch the tip of the index finger of your base hand with your dominant index finger to sign E.

How to Fingerspell F in British Sign Language

F: Extend the middle and index fingers of both of your hands and put the two fingers of your dominant hand on top of the two fingers of your base hand to sign F.

How to Fingerspell G in British Sign Language

G: Make both of your hands into fists with your thumbs tucked in and place your dominant fist on the top of your base fist to sign G.

How to Fingerspell H in British Sign Language

H: Lay your base hand flat facing the palm up. Swipe up with your fingers from your wrist to your fingertips with your dominant hand to sign H.

How to Fingerspell I in British Sign Language

I: Spread out your non-dominant palm and place your dominant index finger on the middle finger of your other hand to sign I.

How to Fingerspell J in British Sign Language

J: Move the index finger of your dominant hand from the middle finger of the non-dominant hand down to the end of your thumb. Simply put, spell the letter J on the palm of your base hand to sign the letter J.

How to Fingerspell K in British Sign Language

K: Point upwards with your base hand, make a hook with your index finger of your dominant hand and place the joint of your dominant index finger on the other hand to sign K.

How to Fingerspell L in British Sign Language

L: Spread your base palm and put the index finger of your dominant hand in the middle of your base hand to sign L.

How to Fingerspell M in British Sign Language

M: Hold your base palm out and place your dominant three fingers (ring, middle and index) on the palm of your other hand to sign M.

How to Fingerspell N in British Sign Language

N: Hold your base palm out and place your dominant hand’s index and middle finger in the middle of your base palm to sign N.

How to Fingerspell O in British Sign Language

O: Hold your base hand out and place your dominant index finger on the tip of the ring finger of your base hand to sign O.

How to Fingerspell P in British Sign Language

P: Create a circle with your dominant index finger and thumb.Make your dominant hand’s index finger and thumb touch the tip of your base index finger to sign the letter P.

How to Fingerspell Q in British Sign Language

Q: Put your thumb and finger of your base hand together to make a circle, then hook the top of your other index finger to your thumb to sign Q.

How to Fingerspell R in British Sign Language

R: Make the index finger of your dominant hand into a hook and place it on the palm of your base hand to sign R.

How to Fingerspell S in British Sign Language

S: Hold out your base hand with the palm facing up, and lock the base pinky finger with the dominant one to sign the letter S.

How to Fingerspell T in British Sign Language

T: Hold your base hand with its palm facing upward and put the index finger of your dominant hand on the bottom of your palm (on the inner side of your hand).

How to Fingerspell U in British Sign Language

U: Place your dominant index finger on the tip of the pinky finger of your base hand to sign U.

How to Fingerspell V in British Sign Language

V: Make a V shape with your dominant hand by extending and spreading your index and middle finger apart. Place the V shape on the palm of your base hand.

How to Fingerspell W in British Sign Language

W: Interlock the fingers of your both hands so that both palms are facing each other and your fingers are pointing diagonally up.

How to Fingerspell X in British Sign Language

X: Cross the index fingers of both the hands and point diagonally up to sign the letter X.

How to Fingerspell Y in British Sign Language

Y: Extend the thumb and index finger of your non-dominant hand and place your dominant index finger between them to sign the letter Y.

How to Fingerspell Z in British Sign Language

Z: Hold the base hand in front of you facing the side. Touch your base hand with the fingertips of your dominant hand to sign Z.


The blog has all the details right from what is fingerspelling to how you can fingerspell. It has elaborately explained the method of British Sign Language fingerspelling. Hopefully, the 3C’s and four significant rules of fingerspelling can help the readers understand what to keep in their minds during fingerspelling. Since fingerspelling is now widely used by interpreters, rehabilitation counsellors, and the deaf community, it should be learned and practised accurately.

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