Z in sign language

Sign language alphabets throughout the world is used for fingerspelling a spoken or written word of a spoken language, such as personal names, brand names, names of places, titles, etc.

Letter Z in ASL alphabet

Here is the letter Z used in American Sign Language.

Meaning: The last 26th letter of the English alphabet and American manual alphabet, a consonant.

Pronunciation (sign description): Dominant "1" hand moves in a zig-zig motion, if right-handed, from left to right, diagonal down, from to left to right, like you read or write the letter Z.

A couple of common mistakes that beginners sometimes make is signing the letter Z with the pinkie. Make sure it's the index or pointer finger. Another mistake is the backward of motion from the listener's view rather than the signer's view. Make sure the motion of Z is from the signer's view as if writing or reading the letter.


The letter Z has a cool advantage over other alphabetical letters that it has its own way of creating a double letter -- not a tap, a bounce, or a sideways. None of them can work, nevertheless. Either repeat the letter or use the handshape as shown in the illustration below.

Double letter Z
Double Z. Image: handspeak.com

The double letter for Z is using the handshape "claw V" with the zigzag motion as in PIZZA (manually pronounced as P-I-ZZ-A). With one exception, that ASL sign for PIZZA isn't really a fingerspelled English word, rather it was evolved into an ASL word (sign).

Kids signing Z

ASL has over 50 handshapes with a very small number of the unmarked handshapes. The "1" handshape is one of a few unmarked handshapes, which means they are the natural forms that children can form with more ease.

The "1" handshape may emerge in gestural pointing at about 7-10 months, but not necessarily in ASL words until later.

In a case study of baby Juli in my documentation, she already began to point with the forefinger at 6-9 months. The linguistic "1" handshape first emerged in one ASL word (COOKIE) with a handshape error at 12 months, then naturally emerged in more ASL words at 15-16 months.

As for the forefinger with the zigzag movement (two skills -- the handshape and the movement), Juli was seen making an attempt to fingerspell the letter Z with a rough movement at age 1;10. She could express that she wanted to go to "ZOO" at age 2;5.

Children develop at their own pace. At a preschool age 3.5 to 5 or so, kids may be able to fingerspell the whole alphabet by themselves with the correct handshapes for all letters of the alphabet.

Other manual alphabets

Here is the Z letter in British manual alphabet, used in British Sign Language (BSL) by Deaf people in the U.K., Australian Sign Language (Auslan) in Australia, and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) in New Zealand.

Letter Z in BSL
Letter Z in BSL alphabet

Description: Dominant bent flat hand with its fingers rest against the palm of the non-dominant flat hand.

Some countries have different sign languages yet share similar manual alphabets. For example, French Sign Language (LSF) in France and American Sign Language (ASL) in North America are different languages yet share the similar manual alphabet. Old ASL is the descendant from Old LSF in the early 1800s.

Japanese Sign Language (JSL), Chinese Sign Language (CSL), and such have their systems for the characters of the written Japanese and Chinese languages. Remember, signed languages are the languages of their own, independent from spoken languages. Manual alphabets are used only to refer to "foreign" words of spoken/written languages.

Related letters

Previous letter: Y. Start over with the letter A.


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 Z

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

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