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American Sign Language: "letter"


Current version. 
Scroll down for older (and still quite common versions that you should recognize).  Seriously, SCROLL DOWN. (Don't be lazy.)

Signs evolve over time.  The above sign evolved from the version below.  Also, even though I personally don't like using this sign to mean "letter of the alphabet" -- at least one major ASL curriculum (other than Lifeprint) uses the above sign to mean "alphabet letter." 
Speaking of "evolution" quite often you will see the above sign shortened such that the initial position of the dominant hand is much closer to the non-dominant hand. (I'm showing you the "full" / careful version of the sign).

LETTER (Somewhat older version -- still well worth knowing.)
A piece of mail.
Hold your dominant "A" hand up near your mouth as if your thumb were a stamp that you just recently licked.  Then place the stamp on the "envelope" represented by your non-dominant hand.

Also see: MAIL


Postage, or "a stamp."

Note: sometimes the non-dominant hand is an "H" hand as well.

Post Office:
To sign "post office" simply fingerspell "P-O."

Dr. Bill's Notes:

In an email message, Holly writes:
I was hoping you might be able to help me figure out a sign that I could not recognize. It looks like the sign for REMEMBER except thumb starts at the chin instead of forehead.
I've been trying to integrate ASL into my signing abilities. I learned "Sign Exact English" 9 years ago from working in a first grade classroom alongside the interpreter and have been studying ever since. I have decided to make the switch to ASL so I can become certified. I am a college student and will begin sign classes this fall at my university. :D
Thank you!!!!!
- Holly

That sign is a version of the sign "letter" (generally used as in "a piece of mail" but occasionally used (somewhat questionably) to refer to a "letter" of the alphabet.  While I can't guarantee the person you saw do that sign was actually intending to mean "letter" -- I can assure you that version can and often is used by everyday Deaf to mean "letter." Sometimes the non-dominant hand is oriented a more palm back for that version of "letter" than for the sign "remember." Also, the sign for "letter" starts near the mouth.  The sign for "remember" starts (in the full citation) version close to the forehead).
- Dr. Bill

Dr. Bill,
Perfect! thank you so much!!!
You were right on... I learned the non-dominant hand as palm open on this sign. But the version you describe is exactly what I saw.
This helps me very much, it's like putting puzzle pieces together :)
- Holly

I recommend students learn both versions of "LETTER."  But there is only so much your local teacher can show you in the limited time you have together. That is why most of us instructors strongly encourage our students to "get out there" into the Deaf Community and interact with local native Deaf adults.
Best wishes in your endeavors.
Dr. Bill

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You can learn American Sign Language (ASL) online at American Sign Language University    Dr. William Vicars

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