ASL University


 American Sign Language: "a"


The letter "A" in American Sign Language (ASL).
 

A:
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(Click for a larger version.)

Tip:  If your screen goes "white" it is because the larger version is so large that you are only seeing the upper left-hand corner of the graphic.
For more letters and handshapes, see: Fingerspelling Art
 

Dr. Bill's Notes
While there is a handshape that represents the fingerspelled letter "A" it is important to realize that American Sign Language doesn't use the English letter "A" as a word the same way it is used in spoken or written English.

Let's consider for a moment the difference in English between the words "a" and "the."
When we use the word "a" in a sentence in English it tends to be so we can introduce a previously unidentified concept into the conversation.

For example, if I use the phrase "a cat" then I'm probably bringing up the topic of a previously unidentified cat.

If I use the phrase "the cat" it generally means I'm referring to a previously identified cat.

Thus "a" and "the" are "reference" words. We use them to refer to a topic in this case, "a cat."

In ASL to refer to a previously unidentified cat you would not use the fingerspelled letter "A" but instead you might sign:

I NOTICE NEW CAT…

NEW CAT show-UP …
HAPPEN STRANGE CAT …
CAT I NEVER SEE BEFORE …
CAT I not-YET SEE …
CAT I DON'T-KNOW …
SOMETHING CAT …
So we can see that to express the concept of "a" in ASL we would use one of the following signs or a similar approach:

SOMETHING

STRANGE
DON'T-KNOW
INVENTED / "came up with" / "created or made up in the mind"
NEW

To express the concept of "the" as in "the woman," we would use phrases such as:

INDEX-(point) WOMAN
THAT WOMAN
(Directional head-thrust) WOMAN
[Location of WOMAN]  (We establish the idea that there is a woman a certain location and then refer to that location as if the woman were there. For example, we mention that there is "a" woman. Then immediately after that we point our index finger to a some direction in space (usually off to our dominant side) and make a comment of some sort. It is understood that we are referring to "the woman" as if we were actually pointing at her. We can even do certain directional verbs (indicating verbs) such as GIVE in the direction of the location where the woman is "established" and the sign GIVE will take on the meaning of "give it to the woman" or a similar meaning.


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