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Sign of the Day - COURTEOUS
Signing U.S. States in ASL
ASL has a number of approaches to identifying the 50 U.S. states. Some are a combination of signs from older post office designations (2-, 3-, and 4-letter postal abbreviations). Some require spelling the entire name. Some use established signs.
Emerging Regional and Generational Signs for U.S. States
Some state signs are still emerging, but not yet fully recognized and used in regular practice across North America. For example, signers in the West have developed an initialized sign for OREGON, using the O handshape coming from the shoulder, like the well-known sign for WASHINGTON.
However, Oregon signers, in the ongoing quest to be seen as an entity separate from Washington, prefer to sign an O handshape in the neutral sign space. You may also see this sign used to mean the Canadian provence ONTARIO.
Although there are different emerging signs for OREGON, we teach OREGON signed as the whole word fingerspelled because that remains the most commonly known version to Deaf people across North America.
Below, we introduce the most common signs for each state, although you may encounter regional and generational variations, and we often include those in the dictionary as sign variations.
The Most Common Signs for Each U.S. State
The map below identifies the most common approach for each state. You may also watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type
Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
U.S. States - By Sign Type - 2 Letters
Sixteen of the fifty states in the USA use 2 letters to make up their sign. The 2 letters used for these states are the common postal abbreviations, which you would use in the address when mailing something to that state.
- Georgia (G-A)
- Kentucky (K-Y)
- Louisiana (L-A)
- Maryland (M-D)
- Missouri (M-O)
Note: The M handshape starts with the palm facing the body and then there is a little twisting movement to shift to the palm facing out.
- New Hampshire (N-H)
- New Jersey (N-J)
- New Mexico (N-M)
- North Carolina (N-C)
- North Dakota (N-D)
- Pennsylvania (P-A)
Note: You may also see this signed as a 4-letter sign, P-E-N-N.
- Rhode Island (R-I)
- South Carolina (S-C)
- South Dakota (S-D)
- Vermont (V-T)
- Virginia (V-A)
You can watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type - 2 Letters
U.S. States - By Sign Type - 3 Letters
Twelve of the fifty states in the USA use 3 letters to make up their sign. The 3 letters used for these states are the first three letters in the name of the state, except for Florida and West Virginia. The 3 letters used for Florida are F-L-A and the 3 letters used for West Virginia are W-V-A. Most of the 3-letter abbreviations come from the postal state abbreviations used before the present, 2-letter standard was adopted in October 1963.
- Alabama (A-L-A)
- Arkansas (A-R-K)
- Delaware (D-E-L)
- Florida (F-L-A)
- Illinois (I-L-L)
- Indiana (I-N-D)
- Kansas (K-A-N)
- Nebraska (N-E-B)
- Nevada (N-E-V)
- West Virginia (W-V-A)
Note: The dominant hand in the W handshape makes a sliding motion outward and the letters V-A are fingerspelled. This represents West (W sliding) and Virginia (the first and last letters of the state of Virginia; the same way Virginia is signed).
- Wisconsin (W-I-S)
Note: You may also see this signed as a 4-letter sign, W-I-S-C.
- Wyoming (W-Y-O)
You can watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word list: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type - 3 Letters
U.S. States - By Sign Type - 4 Letters
Seven of the fifty states in the USA use 4 letters to make up their sign. The 4 letters used for these states are the first four letters in the name of the state.
They are also the same abbreviations used for these states by the post office from 1874 to 1963, before all postal abbreviations were updated to 2 letters per state in October 1963.
- Connecticut (C-O-N-N)
- Massachusetts (M-A-S-S)
- Michigan (M-I-C-H)
- Minnesota (M-I-N-N)
- Mississippi (M-I-S-S)
- Oklahoma (O-K-L-A)
- Tennessee (T-E-N-N)
You can watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type - 4 Letters
U.S. States - By Sign Type - Fingerspell the Word
Seven of the fifty states in the USA fingerspell the entire state name.
- Idaho (I-D-A-H-O)
- Iowa (I-O-W-A)
- Maine (M-A-I-N-E)
- Montana (M-O-N-T-A-N-A)
- Ohio (O-H-I-O)
- Oregon (O-R-E-G-O-N)
- Utah (U-T-A-H)
You can watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type - Fingerspell the Word
U.S. States - By Sign Type - Sign
Eight of the fifty states in the USA have signs that are commonly used and recognized across North America. Each sign is unique to the state.
- Alaska - Think of the fur on a hooded parka.
- Arizona - Think of the sign for HOT.
- California – Similar to the sign for GOLD, think of the California Gold Rush.
- Colorado – The first 5 letters of the word spell COLOR, so sign COLOR and then fingerspell the remaining letters, A-D-O.
- Hawaii - Think of the sign BEAUTIFUL made with the H handshape.
- New York - Think of the sign for subway and turn it over.
- Texas – Use the X handshape because X is the middle letter in the word Texas. The X handshape moves across the front of the body in the shape of the number 7, as several other geographic locations are also signed.
- Washington – This is the same sign used for GEORGE WASHINGTON. Think of the epaulets on the shoulder of a uniform for a general, like George Washington's.
You can watch the videos for these signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - By Sign Type - Sign
U.S. States – Alphabetical
The reference below lists all the signs for U.S. states by sign type and also lists all the signs for U.S. States alphabetically.
Signing Savvy Member Feature: Download this image / flyer as a printable PDF page.
After learning the U.S. States by sign type, you may want to review the states alphabetically. You can watch the videos for the U.S. state signs and practice them using the Signing Savvy Word List: GEOGRAPHY: U.S. States - Alphabetical
- Cartwright, B.E. & Bahleda, S. (2007). The 50 States. In Fingerspelling in American Sign Language (2nd Edition, p. 62). RID Press.
- United States Postal Service. (n.d.). Postal History: State Abbreviations. Retrieved September 2022 from https://about.usps.com/who/profile/history/state-abbreviations.htm
Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same — Family
This article is part of our “Signs That Are Close... But Not the Same” series, which highlights signs that look similar, but have different meanings.
The ASL signs shown below look similar, but are not the same. There are many ASL signs that when produced look similar, but in fact have a completely different meaning. Below you will find examples of such signs. Watch closely to see if you can see the differences. In addition, watch my eyebrows, look to see when I tilt my head or lean my body in a certain way, even what my mouth is doing. These nuances are called inflections and trust me, inflections matter.
These examples are all family signs.
1. Family vs. Class vs. Team
The same movement and palm orientation is used when signing FAMILY, CLASS, and TEAM. Think of the movement in the signs as a group of people coming together or sitting in a circle together. The sign for each word uses a different handshape that corresponds with the first letter of the word.
2. Girl vs. Aunt vs. Daily
GIRL, AUNT, and DAILY all have the dominant hand sign similar handshapes with movement near the chin.
- GIRL has the dominant hand in the10 handshape, with the palm forward, stroke the face with the thumb, along the side of the chin twice. Think of a girl tying a bonnet.
- AUNT moves the dominant hand in the A handshape, with the palm forward, in a small circular motion, toward the chin. The A handshape (for Aunt) is signed in the location (near the chin) where several female family signs are formed.
- DAILY has the dominant hand in the A handshape, with the palm facing the face, touch the cheek repeatedly with the whole side of the fist. Think of signing many TOMORROWS.
3. One-Handed Family Signs: Father vs. Mother and Grandfather vs. Grandmother and Uncle vs. Aunt and Nephew vs. Niece and Male Cousin vs. Female Cousin
Several family signs look similar because their form follows a pattern. These one-handed family signs all use the same sign in pairs, with the male version signed at the top of the head and the female version signed at the bottom of the head. Some say the male signs originated at the top of the head because men would wear top hats and the female signs originated at the bottom of the head, near the chin, because women would wear bonnets which tied at the chin.
FATHER and MOTHER use a 5 handshape and tap two times. The use of this handshape originated from the French sign for MAN.1
GRANDFATHER and GRANDMOTHER start at the head, like FATHER and MOTHER, but then bounce out away from the head in a double arcing motion. Think of the motion as meaning a generation more than a FATHER or MOTHER.
- MALE COUSIN and FEMALE COUSIN use a C handshape (for COUSIN). You may also sign a gender-neutral version of COUSIN, which also means multiple COUSINS of both genders.
4. Man vs. Woman
If you blink at the beginning of the signs for MAN and WOMAN they look identical. The dominant hand in the 5 handshape starts at the head, then moves down to the middle of the chest. However, like many of the other family signs, the male sign, MAN, starts at the top of the head and the female sign, WOMAN, starts at the chin.
5. Two-Handed Family Signs: Husband vs. Wife and Son vs Daughter and Brother vs. Sister
Like the one-handed family signs we shared above, these two-handed family signs all use the same sign in pairs, with the male version signed at the top of the head and the female version signed at the bottom of the head.
HUSBAND and WIFE have the cupped open B handshape start at the head and move down, landing on the palm of the non-dominant hand. These signs are similar to the sign for MARRY, so you may remember them by thinking of a HUSBAND as a male (start the sign where other male family signs start) you MARRY, and WIFE as a female (start the sign where other female family signs start) you MARRY.
SON and DAUGHTER start with the dominant hand in the B handshape at the head and then it arcs down into the crook of the non-dominant elbow. These are both compound signs. SON is a combination of BOY (with a B handshape) + BABY. DAUGHTER is a compound sign of GIRL (with a B handshape) + BABY.
When signing BROTHER and SISTER both hands change from the A handshape to the L handshape while the dominant hand moves from the head to resting on top of the waist-level, non-dominant hand.
6. Child vs. Children
CHILD and CHILDREN are signed similarly, except CHILD uses one hand (for one child) and CHILDREN uses multiple hands (for multiple children). The handshapes used are also slightly different, with CHILD using a bent B handshape and CHILDREN using an open B handshape.
How can I figure out the difference between signs on my own?
If you see two signs that look close, but not the same, and you’re not sure, you may use Signing Savvy features to help you figure out the difference. All of our signs have sign descriptions and memory aids that members may access. Reading the sign description and memory aids for the signs will help you figure out the small differences between them that your eyes don’t catch at first. We also recommend using the pause and slow motion feature to slow down the video, so you may take a closer look. These features are available to Signing Savvy members.
- Shaw, E. & Delaporte, Y. (2014). A Historical and Etymological Dictionary of American Sign Language. Washington: Gallaudet University Press.
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Fingerspelling Warm-Up Activities to Prevent Repetitive Motion Injuries
Just as athletes warm up and increase their stamina in increments, so should signers. This is especially important when first learning to fingerspell and sign. You should do warm-up stretches before fingerspelling practice. Focused fingerspelling practice is often for extended lengths of time, and will work parts of your body that may not be attuned to that type of exercise. Warming up can limit potential cumulative trauma disorders.
The following warm-up stretches work to reduce the amount of stress the hand, wrist, arm, and shoulder receive while fingerspelling and signing. Before you begin practicing your fingerspelling, begin with a variety of warm-ups.
Fingerspelling Warm-Up Activities:
1. Shoulder Shrugs
Slowly raise and drop shoulders several times.
2. Shoulder Press
Slowly stretch arms above your head until they meet with your palms together. Gently lower them to shoulder level, palms together and hands up in front of your head. Repeat.
3. Finger Lifts
Place hand palm down on a table or flat surface and slowly raise and lower each finger. Repeat with the other hand.
4. Full Arm Stretch
Hold arm out parallel to the floor, palm down. Lock elbow. Raise your hand so the fingertips point to the ceiling. With the other hand, gently press the raised fingers (all at once) back toward your body for a five-count; alternate with the other hand and repeat twice.
5. Finger Stretch
With arms stretched out in front of you, palms down, slowly open and close hands, stretching the fingers apart as far as possible. Repeat several times.
6. Wrist Revolutions
With closed hands, slowly rotate wrists in toward each other several times. Then rotate wrists away from each other several times.
Following this warm-up routine before you begin practicing fingerspelling will help prevent repetitive motion injuries, and will enhance the "fingerspelling muscles" over time!