A in sign language

This word entry covers the signs for the alphabetical letter A, the articles (e.g. a, an), the letter A used in baby signing, a vocabulary booster activity, and related links.

"A" doodle art, 2008 by Jolanta Lapiak.

What is the letter P in sign language? Just as there are different sign languages, there are different manual alphabets around the world. Here shows you how to sign the letter "A" in the American manual alphabet used in the United States and Canada.

Letter A in American Sign Language

How do you say the letter "A" in the ASL alphabet?

Meaning: The first letter of the English alphabet, a vowel.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant fist-like handshape with the thumb on the side of the hand. Or, you know the thumb-up -- push the thumb to close the gap. The palm orientation of the horizontal hand faces outward.

Tip for beginners: Not to be confused with the letter "S". For the letter A, the thumb should be on the side, not on the closed fingers.

"A" and "an" determiners

Is there an ASL sign for the article "a" as in "a deaf person" or "an" as in "an American Deaf person"?

No and yes. No, there is no word-for-word equivalent for the English determiners or articles. Yes, ASL has its own grammar and a system of determiners, just like other languages have their own rules. Explore several determiners in ASL.

Letter A in baby signing

English has about 40-44 sound phonemes in spoken language with its 26 alphabetical letters for its writing version. ASL has over 50 handshape primes and a number of handshape digits in ASL writing.

To start with clearing up misconceptions that hearing people have about sign language, there is no such as 'baby sign language' (cultural appropriation) as much ludicrous as "baby speech language". In short, manually speaking for babies is no easier than vocally speaking.

While ASL has over 50 handshape primes, generally seven of them are unmarked handshapes which use all fingers, such as 5, B, O, A, S, C, and index finger or simply as "1". In natural language acquisition, ASL-speaking baby acquires unmarked handshapes first before developing the rest of other marked handshapes.

In my case study of baby "Juli", the "A" handshape emerged at about 12 months old and it's the second or third unmarked handshape that emerged after the other first unmarked handshapes "5" and "1"*.

During the beginning of this one-word stage of language acquisition, the baby used the "A" handshape in her newly learned signs or words such as BATH, DRIVE(car), WORK, etc. For the ASL word "work" which was Juli's one of the first, earliest words, she first formed the "5" handshape then transitioned it into the "A" handshape in WORK.

In fingerspelling, the A handshape is easy to form for baby. But, when fingerspelling individual letters "MAMA", the handshape M is very difficult and won't emerge much later. In contrast, it's very easy for baby vocally speaking MAMA as early as 6 months.

* In a sense of synesthesia, the handshape "5" in signing is an analogue to the "aah" in speech. Interesting, I observed that the handshape "1" before 12 months is used mostly in gestural pointing which first emerged at about 8-9 months but not in ASL words until 12 months during the one-word stage. Unsurprisingly, as other evidence has shown, manual gesture and signed word process differently in the brain.

Vocabulary Booster Game

Level: mid-beginner with a vocabulary corpus of over 50 or so ASL words.

Keep in mind that this vocabulary booster activity has nothing to do with the English alphabetical letter "A". It has to do with the sign language handshape that resembles the letter A.

Ok, let's boost up your vocabulary and brain exercise. Can you think of as many ASL signs that begin with the dominant-handed handshape "10" (open thumb) as possible? The "10" handshape (open thumb) is more common than the handshape "A" (closed thumb).

Q: "Can I count ASL signs with the "10" handshape on the passive hand? How about the two-handed signed words that have two different handshapes?"

A: Only the ASL words with the "10" handshape on the dominant hand regardless of one-handed or two-handed signs.

To get started for a warm-up, here is a couple of examples: NOT, HIDE.

Possible answers


A in other manual alphabets

British Sign Language (BSL), the distinct language of deaf people in the U.K., is different from American Sign Language (ASL). So are their distinct manual alphabets. The British alphabet is a two-handed system.

A in BSL (British Sign Language
A in BSL (British Sign Language

Sign description: Dominant forefinger points to the palm-up non-dominant "5" handshape. It represents the letter A. The next fingers of the non-dominant hand represents E, I, O, and U respectively.

ASL and LSF (French Sign Language) share basically the same manual alphabet, yet the languages are very different, even though ASL is the descendant of Old LSF.

Related words

Next letter: B.


Look at this ASL alphabet chart if you just want to learn all the letters at once.

Written ASL

[Note: ASL writing is not an official standard. This sign language writing remains in a state of open space to allow room for experiment, evolution, and improvement.]

How to write ASL for letter A

Written ASL digit for the alphabetical letter A. [Contributed by ASLwrite, 2019]

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