Manual alphabet is used to fingerspell a series of alphabetical letters to form a spoken/written word of another language. Fingerspelling is used when an Ameslan refers to an English or a foreign word. For example, a person's name, a word of another spoken/written language, etc.

Fingerspelling around the world

There are different manual alphabets around the world. Some countries or sign language cultures use similar manual alphabets with a few modifications, borrowing the alphabet from one another. Some are entirely different.

Two-handed British manual alphabet is used in Australia, England, New Zealand and some other countries. The British manual alphabet and British sign language are entirely distinct from the American manual alphabet and American Sign Language which are used in North America (Canada and the U.S.).

Cross-cultural Fingerspelling

It could take just a few moments to learn a manual alphabet. At the World Games for the Deaf in Christchurch, New Zealand in January 1989, some Australians and New Zealanders had learned American manual alphabet beforehand while some Americans and Canadians learned British fingerspelling. Why?

At a social gathering, I chatted with an Australian in mixed gestures, onomatopoeic signs and others in combination. Whenever he could not understand what I said, I fingerspelled an English word in British fingerspelling. He read and understood it naturally. Likewise, when I could not understand him, he fingerspelled in American alphabet. After all, we read and write the same language, that is English.

For this reason, it would take some time to develop a receptive skill in fingerspelling. Unlike fingerspelling, fluent signers could understood each other in signs in a regular pace.

Ask Q, Answer Q

"Which right or left hand should left-handed people use?"

It depends on an individual's permanent choice. Left-handed individuals may remain to be left-handed in fingerspelling and sign language, while few other left-handed people are right-handed signers. If you are a left-handed, your left hand would be the dominant part in fingerspelling and sign language. Likewise, if you are a right-handed, use your right hand as the dominant one.


Groode. J. L. Fingerspelling: Expressive and Receptive (video). San Diego: DawnSignPress. 1992.

Patrie, Carol J. PhD. Fingerspelled Names and Introductions: a template building approach. (including DVD).

For research studies on fingerspelling, see Dr. Arlene Blumenthal Kelly's work.