Letter I in sign language

Like sign languages that are not a universal language, sign language alphabets are different throughout the world. Manual alphabets are used for fingerspelling a spoken/written word of spoken languages, such as personal names, brand names and others where there are no signs for them.

I letter in ASL alphabet

How do you form the letter I in American Sign Language (ASL)?

Definition: The ninth letter of the English alphabet and American manual alphabet, a vowel.

Pronunciation (sign description): With the dominant fist hand (in this case, right-handed), the pinkie is upright and the palm faces outward/left (natural orientation).


When fingerspelling a double letter, how to do fingerspell a word with the double letters? Like the letter J, there is a rare word with the double "i" in English. Supposedly, the loanword "shiitake" is fingerspelled. Sideways, tap, or bounce?

What is studied is usually looking at Deaf native signers in their natural everyday conversations in Deaf community. Since the double "i" letters are not commonly used, it's difficult to say. There is no one answer. For "bacchii" and "nauplii, most likely sideways. For "skiing" and "taxiing", repeat the "i" and maybe sideways in some contexts. As a native Deaf signer, we listen by the sound of it, not what "one says that or this". Just like why it's "a" in "a university" but not in "an university"? Hearing people sense it in their native language, not just because "an" must always come before any word with the initial vowel.

Baby signing I

In language development (phonological acquisition in particular), the handshape I in ASL-speaking toddlers doesn't emerge in ASL words with the handshape I until later, somewhere in the late phase of the whole handshape chart which contains over 50+ handshapes found in ASL, just like there are about 40-44 phonemes in English spoken language (vs 26 alphabetical letters in written English).

In a case study of baby Juli in my documentation, the handshape I emerged at age 2;9. Prior to the full-formed "I" at age 2;9, interestingly, she used the handshape T to help form I, which means a combination of T and I. Then, she was able to form the handshape "I" in the ASL word "drawing".

By age 3.5 to 5 or later, ASL-speaking deaf children and codas may be able to form all letters of the alphabet.

Vocabulary booster activity

Can you think of as many ASL signs with the handshape "I" (including J) as possible? It must be on the dominant hand regardless of one-handed or two-handed signs.


Some possible signs: LINE, IDENTITY, IDENTIFY, JUICE, SPAGHETTI, INSTITUTION, JUST (variation), IF (variation), IDEA, IMAGINE, IMMATURE, EGOISTIC ("I" on the chest), DRAWING...

Other manual alphabets

Here shows how to form "I" in British manual alpahbet.

Letter I in BSL
Letter I in BSL

In the BSL alphabet, the index finger of the dominant hand points to the middle finger of the non-dominant palm-up flat hand.

If you have noticed with the previous letter A and E. Each of the non-dominant fingers represents a vowel from the thumb to the pinkie in order: A, E, I, O, U.

Related words

Previous letter: H and next letter J.


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 I

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

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