"No" in sign language

This entry shows how to sign 'no' in sign language and a little cute theory why it's signed that way. In another video far below, the baby learned to say no.

ASL signs for "no"

How do you say "no" in American Sign Language for beginners?

Meaning: Definition: Used to give a negative response; the opposite of yes.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant hand held in space with palm facing outward, first two fingers (index finger and middle finger together) tap with the thumb twice. The tap movement is sometimes once, sometimes twice, sometimes plural, depending on the contexts.

There are inflections of this signed word for other meanings, such as exclamation like "no!"

Did you know that the ASL sign "NO" was derived from the fingerspelled loan. This lexicalized sign was evolved into the ASL sign.

Other "No" signs

Here is a few more signs used by advanced and fluent signers.

This can mean "no" in euphemism, "don't do it", and other nuances.

Pronunciation (sign description): waving hand, palm orientation facing outward with the "oo" mouth morpheme, and shaking head.

In some contexts, the "no" response can be a bit harsh with this sign. The sign glossed as "NO-wave" is the euphemism. Or, it can be used properly in contexts.

Used with a very strong emphasis, typically among Deaf signers.

Shaking head is a common interjection used too. Head shaking doesn't just convey "no"; various movements along with facial expressions (intonation) also can convey other nuances of meanings, like "no way", "impossible", "doubtful", and other subtleties.


Related signs: NONE, NOT, NOPE.

Opposite: YES.

Baby/Toddler signing "no"

Children develop at different pace and with different strategies, but milestones are consistent regardless of sign language or speech language. Watch the video showing how the baby "Juli" acquired the signed word 'no' in early language acquisition in ASL.

In the video at age 1;5, the baby expressed a way other than the ASL word, such as body language or gesture. At 1;6, she recognized the written English word "no" in a kid book and uttered the ASL sign "no" which was not produced fully yet. At 1;9, the mother and the toddler responded at the same time. At age 1;11, as she lay down, she said in ASL, "I say/tell no".

Kids say the darnedest things

Nine-year-old bilingual ASL-speaking kid has got a little hypothetical question.

Translation: If the ASL word YES moves up/down, then why doesn't the ASL word/sign NO move sideways?

This kid's thought wasn't the first time. There had been some people here and there who had the same wonder, including myself in my early life. It's a natural logic.

So, in case you might wonder why the ASL sign for NO is this way. Hypothetically, 1) It's the phonetic thing (nothing to do with sound but to do with the brain and its linguistic processing). The sign NO is more efficient this way than the shaking "S" handshape. It's a natural language thing.

Etymology: Did you know that this ASL sign, which looks very much a non-fingerspelled form itself, was actually lexicalized from two fingerspelled N and O? It was a loanword but nobody could thought of it as a loanword.

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.]

ASL written for NO

Written ASL digit for "NO" contributed by the ASLwrite community, 2018.

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