What is Fingerspelling?

Fingerspelling is a form of manual alphabet where someone uses their hands to sign a specific letter, most often used by people who are deaf.  

Illustration: A variety of hands demonstrate signs for individual letters, spelling "FABLE"
Illustration: A variety of hands demonstrate signs for individual letters, spelling "FABLE"

Fingerspelling defined:

Fingerspelling means using one’s hand to sign specific letters and spelling out a word rather than using a gesture sign to indicate the word. This is a form of manual alphabet (as opposed to spoken, verbal alphabet) which serves as the foundation of sign language.

Manually signing letters is usually done on one hand for American Sign Language (ASL) and other Latin-based languages with similar alphabets. However, this is not a concrete rule. For example, British Sign Language (BSL) and New Zealand sign language (NZSL) use two hands when fingerspelling their alphabets. In cases where two hands are used, the signer will sign with their dominant hand (right or left), and their second hand becomes the subordinate hand that encapsulates the sign.

Two-handed fingerspelling is also used in tactile sign language, a form of communication used by deafblind people who cannot visually see someone signing and need to instead feel the signs in their hands or on their bodies (typically their shoulder, wrist, or arm).

While sign language is sometimes considered more expedient than spelling out whole words, it’s not essential for deaf people to learn whole sign languages if they already know fingerspelling. It’s also worth noting that some people who have hard of hearing or deafness don’t know fingerspelling or sign language at all, since they may be able to hear just enough to get by or they leverage a hearing aid or cochlear implant to improve their hearing capabilities.

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