U in sign language

What is the letter U in manual alphabets? There are different sign language alphabets around the world. Here is one in American Sign Language that deaf people manually speak in the United States and Canada.

U in ASL alphabet

How do you sign "U" in ASL?

Definition: The 21st letter of the alphabet in English and American manual alphabet, a vowel.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant index finger and middle finger are upright together with the palm facing outward while the thumb and other fingers are closed.

Previous letter: T and next letter V.

U in Fingerspelling

It can be so naive to think that the correct way to produce the letter U is as shown in the manual alphabet. In reality, when producing the letter U, there are variants including the orientation and thumb, especially true in fingerspelled loanwords, such as #SURE where the U faces in instead of out. Co-articulation is when a letter is affected by the other letters before and after, just like in spoken words where a sound "A" or "O" are not exactly the same in words.

Vocabulary booster with U

To practice your vocabulary, can you think of as many signed words as possible that start with the handshape of "U/H" regardless of the palm orientation and only on the dominant hand regardless of the one-handed or two-handed signs?

You also can make a separate list for the handshape U/H with the open thumb as in "13". In this handshape, the forefinger and middle finger should be together while the thumb is open, not when the forefinger and middle finger are split.


Here are some possible answers (U/H with closed thumb): NAME, SHORT, UNIVERSITY, CALL (name), KNIFE,

Another list of some possible answers for U/H with open thumb: CUTE, RABBIT, HORSE, BUTTER, PAINTING (handshape variation), FUNNY, BACON, ...

Baby signing U

In language development (specifically phonological acquisition), forming the letter U is somewhere later in the 50+ handshape chart for toddlers. The handshape U takes much time to acquire, unlike the first phase of natural or unmarked handshapes such as "5", "1", "S", "A", and a few more.

The linguistics studies on phonological acquisition in ASL is mostly in conjunction with my personal documentation of the child "Juli". In the middle phase, an ASL-speaking toddler may acquire the handshape U before R. But, in my child's case, she acquired the handshape R before U. Nevertheless, both show the similar time frame of milestone or phase. It varies from child to child, but development remains in the natural process.

As the handshapes, R, U/H, and V appear to be in a handshape "family", it was interesting to observe Juli how she acquires these there handshapes in a slow time motion and in the order and why.

At 21 months, Juli formed the letter R comfortably. But, this handshape is not integrated with some ASL words such as "rocket" yet, only the letter R as a standalone.

At age 2;0, the handshapes "U" and "V" appeared in some ASL signs such as JUMP, but she still couldn't form these as alphabetical letters or standalone handshapes yet.

At age 2;1, at that time Juli first incorporated the handshape R into an ASL word/sign ROCKET, next month Juli also used the handshape "R" in many ASL words that contain the handshape "U" and "V", even though she knew the difference between R and U / V handshapes and letters. The handshape R helped her transition from R to U and V in ASL words as the R helps her to control or keep the ring finger and pinkie down.

At age 2;2, she successfully formed the handshape "U" in ASL words such as SIT, TRAIN, UNCLE. The handshape "U" was still used for "V" in ASL signs with the "V" handshapes. Worthy to mention, W also emerged during this R/U/V phase. The form W is used in place of ASL words with other few handshapes not yet emerged.

By age 2;4, the handshape "V" appeared to be mature that Juli comfortably formed it in her ASL words, such as STAND. Ironically, Juli couldn't form this handshape "V" as a standalone for the ASL number "two". This handshape "2" can be found in ASL words or signs, not in its standalone handshape.

Other manual alphabets

For the U letter in British Sign Language (BSL) used by deaf people in the U.K., the dominant index finger points to the non-dominant palm-up middle finger.

BSL letter for U
BSL letter for U

Not being a universal language at all, sign languages are distinct in different countries, but some of them share the similar manual alphabets with minor modifications, while some others have different systems. For example, ASL and LSF (French Sign Language) are different languages yet they share a similar manual alphabet. On the other hand, BSL and ASL are both different sign languages and manual alphabets.

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 U

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

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