Signs for LITERACY, LITERATE

What is the sign for "literacy" or "literate"? There are two signs, depending on which specific meaning you are referring to.

Meaning: the ability to read and write; literacy.

Most people think of "literacy" in its simplified concept based on the ability to read and write. The ASL sign "literacy" also reflects this concept.

Meaning: "the ability to read, write, speak and listen in a way that lets us communicate effectively and make sense of the world." -- literacytrust.org.uk

The concept "literacy" refers to much more than just the ability to read and write. This sign was shown by Marlon Kuntze (PhD) who is Deaf in his presentations on literacy in Deaf children. His research involves in the area of language, cognitive and literacy development, especially in bilingual Deaf children who are fluent in ASL and acquire written English as a second language.

Related signs: READ, WRITE, MATH.

Deaf Studies

The concept "literacy" refers to much more than just the ability to read and write. How do Deaf children acquire written English without spoken English? Explore literacy and biliteracy in Deaf children and hearing children of Deaf parents.


For the past hundreds and hundreds of years, hearing society has been obsessed with fixing deaf people who have been fighting against hearing oppression. For hearing people, speech is their value. For us Deaf people, bi-literacy, bilingualism, and (sign) language via eye are our values, as well as self-determination.

Many Deaf people who have no hearing aids nor cochlear implants are highly literate and have excellent English skills in writing/reading, thanking to ASL (or any signed languages) and bilingualism from early childhood or even best from birth. On the other hand, some deaf people in the older generations have faced struggles with literacy because of language deprivation and/or delay in early childhood where signing was forbidden in name of speech.

Books and Internet are Deaf people's value and appreciation. In general, Deaf people prefer education, literacy, and sign language (bilingualism) over mandatory speech imposed on us by hearing society.

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Basic word starters: hello / learn / ASL / sign language / alphabet / love / I love you / please / thank you / welcome...

Search Tips and Pointers

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Alphabetical letters: It's useful for 1) a single-letter word (such as A, B, etc.) and 2) very short words (e.g. "to", "he", etc.) to narrow down the words and pages in the list.

For best result, enter a short word in the search box, then select the alphetical letter (and page number if needed), and click on the blue link.

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Don't forget to click "All" back when you search another word with a different initial letter.

If you cannot find (perhaps overlook) a word but you can still see a list of links, then keep looking until the links disappear! Sharpening your eye or maybe refine your alphabetical index skill. :)

Add a Word: This dictionary is not exhaustive; ASL signs are constantly added to the dictionary. If you don't find a word/sign, you can send your request (only if a single link doesn't show in the result).

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ASL has its own grammar and structure in sentences that works differently from English. For plurals, verb inflections, word order, etc., learn grammar in the "ASL Learn" section. For search in the dictionary, use the present-time verbs and base words. If you look for "said", look up the word "say". Likewise, if you look for an adjective word, try the noun or vice versa. E.g. The ASL signs for French and France are the same. If you look for a plural word, use a singular word.