Signs for SPEAK

The English term "speak" is usually associated with the notion of speech as central to language. To deconstruct this phonocentric notion, the term "speak" can be applicable to vocal-auditory modality and visual-spatial modality, for both are articulated in the verbal form (that is, the opposite of written form).

Variations of meanings

These signs are used in different contexts, which can be uncertain for learners or non-native signers when to use them or which of them to use. These signs can be translated into "speak", "say", or "talk" in specific contexts or meanings. Conversely likewise, one of the English words "say", "talk" or "speak" can be translated into different signs in contexts.

Meaning: To say something in order to convey information, an opinion, or a feeling in vocal-aural modality or spoken language.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant upright "4" hand (handshape), palm facing left if right-handed (orientation), edge of the forefinger in contact with the chin (location), taps on the chin twice (movement).

This sign is sometimes used in context of "What does he say?" or "What is he saying?" Another sign SAY is more commonly used in this "what say" context.

Another usage with the sign of this version is "I want to talk/speak with you now". Or, in a lively group discussion, someone, who notices another person who has been trying to participate or to say something, speaks out, "Hey, [name] wants to say/speak/talk something." Or, "I speak English (or any other spoken language).

This sign can be referred to either spoken form or signed form where this concept has nothing to do with the mouth-based mode, only the meaning or concept of expressing something. Except for a spoken language that one speaks.

This sign is referred to the mouth-based mode of expression only, not signed form.

Semantic variation (sign description): Dominant upright "4" hand (handshape), palm facing left if right-handed (orientation), edge of the forefinger in contact with the chin (location), fingers wiggle (movement).

Usage example: As a hearing person listens to the radio in silence, a Deaf person waits, asking "Are they speaking now yet?" The hearing signer replied, "No, still quiet.... ah, now they're speaking." Another example of usage is "She speaks French really well" glossed as "IX SPEAK FRENCH GOOD[nod]" in ASL.

Learner tip: Don't confuse this production with COLOR.

Manually speak (sign)

These signs are referred to the manual mode of expression only.

Meaning: To say something in order to convey information, an opinion, or a feeling in visual-spatial modality or signed language.

Pronunciation (sign description): Two-handed "S" hands (handshape), palms half-up (orientation), apart in space (location), relaxedly-squeeze twice (movement).

Usage example: "She's telling a funny story", glossed as "IX SIGNING FUNNY STORY". "I speak ASL and write/read English."

Variation of meaning; only referred to visual-spatial modality or signed language.

Usage example: "She's telling a story", glossed as "STORY/\ IX SIGNING". This sign with an inflection can describe an old man signing a story on the stage.

These usage examples are only limited to give a full picture of the contexts and usages. With inflections (as well as mouth morphemes) of the signs can become subtle different meanings. Language immersion in Deaf community for years can give a learner a better understanding.

The concepts TELL, TALK, etc. have nothing to do with (mouth-based) speech. The concepts such as FREEDOM OF SPEECH, SPEECHLESS, SPEECH ANXIETY are not limited to vocal-aural modality but also include languages in the visual-spatial or signed form.



Variations of the "word": SIGN/SIGNED WORD, WORD, CHARACTER as in logogram (Asian writing)...


Get more with the PatronPlus subscription to unlock the premium content and more features, including ad-free for clean and fast page loading. Already a subscriber? Login.

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 SPEAK in signing

Written ASL digit for SPEAK in signing or visual-spatial modality. [Added, 2020]

How to write ASL for SPEAK in vocal-aural modality

Written ASL digit for SPEAK in vocal-aural modality or speech language.

Deaf Culture and tidbits


ASL/Sign Language linguists don't create separate linguistic terms such as phonology and other linguistic terms for ASL. Brain-based language processing and structure work the same despite the opposite modalities. Neuroscience and linguistics studies show that language is amodal; that is, language is brain-based, not modality-based. There are myths to dispel about language and speech.

Feeling lucky? Random word

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

Search Tips and Pointers

Search/Filter: Enter a keyword in the filter/search box to see a list of available words with the "All" selection. Click on the page number if needed. Click on the blue link to look up the word. For best result, enter a partial word to see variations of the word.

Screenshot of dictionary search with notes
Screenshot of the search dictionary

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.

Screenshot of dictionary search with notes
Screenshot of the search dictionary

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).

Videos: The first video may be NOT the answer you're looking for. There are several signs for different meanings, contexts, and/or variations. Browsing all the way down to the next search box is highly recommended.

Video speed: Signing too fast in the videos? See HELP in the footer.

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.