An ASL Dictionary

Signing Savvy is a sign language dictionary containing several thousand high resolution videos of American Sign Language (ASL) signs, fingerspelled words, and other common signs used within the United States and Canada.

And Much More!

Signing Savvy is an ideal resource to use while you learn sign language. It includes the ability to view large sign videos, build your own word lists and share them with others, create virtual flash cards and quizzes, print signs, build sign phrases, ...and more

Sign of the Day - MEMORIAL DAY

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Signing People's Names in Sign Language

Signing People's Names in Sign Language

Learning Tips   |  Saturday, March 28, 2009

By John Miller

Signs for common names?

My name is John, which, as you can guess, is a pretty common name. The benefit of having a common name growing up is that whenever I went into a gift shop that had items with names on them, such as cups, buttons, belts, or what-have-you, I could always find one with my name on it. In sign langage, unlike the items in the gift shop, there is no sign for John. That is, there is no specific sign that can be used for everyone who has the name JOHN (or any other name).

Spelling out the name through fingerspelling

Since there is no common sign for a name, when refering to a person by name, you often just fingerspell it.

JOHN Fingerspelled

You can learn more about fingerspelling and the signed alphabet in the "Fingerspelling/Alphabet" section of the site. You can also have any name (or anything else) fingerspelled on Signing Savvy. Just type the name to be fingerspelled in the search box and click the "Find Signs" button.

searching for names

Since there is likely not going to be a sign for the name, the site will inform you that it was not able to find a sign, however you can have it fingerspelled. In this case, I clicked the "Have JOHN fingerspelled?" link.

search results

The resulting video shows the fingerspelling of my name.

fingerspelled name

If you are searching for a name that has another English meaning, such as "AUTUMN", you will see the sign for the non-name meaning. In this case, you want the fingerspelled version of AUTUMN not the sign for the season of the year. To see the fingerspelled version, just click on the "FS" button to the right of the word to switch to the fingerspelled version.

selecting the fingerspelled version of a sign

Sign names

Fingerspelling your name can seem a bit impersonal, especially among friends. So, members of the Deaf community often give each other sign names. Your sign name is often related to something about you (a characteristic). For example, if you have curly hair, your sign name may be a combination of the first letter of your name and the sign for curly hair. Culturally, it is not appropriate to pick your own sign name and only Deaf people assign sign names. When you first use a sign name in a conversation, you would fingerspell the name and then show the sign name. Once the people know who you are talking about, the sign name makes it easier and more personal to refer to the person during the conversation.

Pointing in space

When you are signing directly to someone, you often just sign YOU (point at him or her) to refer to the person you are talking with and ME (point at yourself) to refer to yourself. When you are talking about someone else who is NOT there, you can use a similar technique, called pointing in space. In this case, you would identify the person by fingerspelling their name (or describing them, such a "my father"), and then pointing at a location in space (usually to the left or right of you.) The first point marks the space that represents the person you named. Afterwhich, when refering to the person in the conversation, you can just point to the location you marked. This is another big time saver when refering to someone many times during a conversation.

pointing in space


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Enhancements to Printing

Site News   |  Tuesday, March 10, 2009

By Brian Winn

New printing features now available

Since the launch, we have been continually improving the sign printing functionality. Today, I am happy to report we have launched our latest printing features for Signing Savvy members. The printing feature now provides you a great amount of flexibility in what you print and how it prints. This includes the ability to select which images you want to print from each sign, the ability to print multiple signs on a page, and the ability to print signs for special purposes, such as flash cards (even two-sided if you have a printer that supports it) and test sheets, in addition to reference sheets.

To print, you must be a Signing Savvy member and you must be logged in. If you are not yet a member, you can test out many of the printing features on the Sign of the Day.

How it works

When you wish to print one or more signs shown in a video, just click the PRINT button located in the playback controls under the video.

where is the print button'

A sidebar will open up to the right of the video that will walk your through the printing process.

print sidebar

Select Images to Print

The first step is to select the images (frames of video) you would like to print for each sign in the video. Initially, the site will show thumbnail images of one to four preselected frames of video for each sign. You can just go with the defaults or you can modify which images to use.

If you wish to modify which images to use, first make sure you are on the sign you wish to modify. Usually the video shows just one sign. However, if you are viewing a phrase from the Savvy Interpreter or a Word List, the video may include multiple signs. To move through the signs available in the video (if there is more than one), you can either click the forward and backward arrows in sidebar by the sign name or you can simply move the playback head to be located within the desired sign.

move between signs

Once you are viewing the thumbnails for the sign you wish to modify, you can remove an image by first clicking on the thumbnail image to selected it, and then clicking the REMOVE button below the thumbnails.

removing frames

You can add a frame by first moving the playback head to the frame of video you wish to add and then clicking the ADD button. Probably the easiest way to move the playback head to is to use the previous frame and next frame buttons.

add frame

NOTE: You can only have four images per sign, so you may have to remove an image before you can add a new one.

If you make a mistake, you can click the DEFAULTS button to return to the DEFAULT frames for the sign.

You can also click SAVE CHANGES to save the changes you made for the sign so the next time you look at it, it will have the same thumbnails preselected for you.

You can continue this process for each sign in the video (if there is more than one.) Once you are ready to move to the next step, click the NEXT button.

Print Options

The second step is to choose your printing options. One of the options is to decide how and if you want to print a sign description. You can choose ON SAME PAGE to print out a reference sheet where the name of the sign is printing with the sign images. You can choose ON SEPARATE PAGE to print out flash cards or self-test sheets where the sign is printed on one page and the sign description is printed on a separate sheet. Or you can choose DO NOT PRINT to print out just the signs with no information on what the sign is. This can be useful for creating a test/quiz.

print options

One option for printing when you choose ON SEPARATE PAGE is the FRONT-TO-BACK checkbox. If you have a printer capable of two-sided printing, check this checkbox. This will make sure that the sign description will line-up properly on the back of the page with the corresponding images on the front. This is very useful for making flash cards. The other print option is to select the number of signs per page. Previously you could only print one sign per page. Now you have the option of printing 1, 4, 6, or 9 signs on a page! Once you are ready to move to the next step, click the NEXT button.

Setup Your Printer

The last step is to make sure your printer is configured properly. The print sidebar will make recommendations to you on how your printer should be setup for printing based on the print options you selected.

print recommendations

Once you click the PRINT button, you will be presented with your computers standard Print Dialog box. You should select the corresponding options in your computer Print Dialog boxes. For example, if you were following the recommendations shown above, you would select the paper orientation as "Portrait," two-sided printing on (if you had a duplex printer), and set the binding method to "long-edge binding" (once again, if you had a duplex printer). You don't have to follow these recommendations. However, your printed signs will look better if you do.

print dialog settings

Aside: Showing Motion

The best way to see the motion of a sign is to view a sign live or via video, such as on the Signing Savvy web site. As described above, Signing Savvy's print feature allows you to select multiple images from a sign to show the motion of the sign. However, sometimes that is not enough. If you have seen printed signs in books or on cards in the past you probably have noticed that they often include arrows overlaid on top of the image to show motion. Perhaps one day we will enhance printing so you can add arrows on top of the images. For now, you can always write them in with a pen or marker after printing!


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First Deaf Contestant on the Amazing Race!

General Interest   |  Saturday, February 28, 2009

By Jillian Winn

A few of us at Signing Savvy are big fans of the Amazing Race. As we watched the first episode two weeks ago, we were excited to see the first-ever deaf contestant to be on the show!

As the Amazing Race participants travel the world, they often encounter language barriers. However, Luke, who has been deaf since birth, and his mother, Margie, felt they might have an advantage over other contestants since they have such strong communication skills with each other. They also commented they could strategize in front of the other teams without them understanding what they are talking about. Luke and Margie use ASL and their own short/fast version of sign language to communicate with each other.

So far, Margie and Luke are off to a great start – Luke did the first roadblock, which was bungee jumping off the Verzasca Dam. At 70-storys, it is the second highest bungee jump in the world. Luke and Margie reached the first pit stop in Stechelberg, Switzerland FIRST! Then Phil (the show’s host) signed, “You (are) team number one!”

Video of Margie and Luke Adams reaching the Pit Stop first and host Phil signing, “You (are) team number one!” (Source: CBS)

ASL Learning Tip:

For those who may be learning ASL, notice when Phil signs, “You are team number one!” that he actually signs the words: YOU TEAM NUMBER ONE. When signing strict ASL, there are often words that are skipped, as is the word “are” in this example. When you use the Savvy Interpreter tool and search for “You are team number one,” the interpreter signs the strict ASL version, without the word “are,” by default.

Video of the Savvy Interpreter tool signing "You (are) team number one." (Source:

About the Savvy Interpreter: The Savvy Interpreter is a tool available to members of Signing Savvy. The Savvy Interpreter links signs together to give you an idea how to sign phrases and sentences. Note, currently the Savvy Interpreter does not translate from English syntax to ASL syntax. It interprets based on the word order you type. Once the interpretation is made, you have the ability to modify the word order to your liking.

More on Luke and Margie on the Amazing Race:

The Amazing Race is Sunday nights at 8pm ET on CBS. We look forward to cheering them on!

Watch Luke and Margie’s Amazing Race Interview:

View Margie and Luke’s biography on the Amazing Race website

Read the MSNBC article by the Associated Press, 1/28/09: Deaf student among ‘Amazing Race’ hopefuls: Luke Adams and his mom one of 11 teams competing for $1 million prize


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The many facets of sign language

Learning Tips   |  Wednesday, February 25, 2009

By John Miller

What is the difference between American Sign Language and other sign languages?

Sign language has many different facets to it. American Sign Language (ASL) is the language created and used by the Deaf in the United States, Canada, parts of Mexico, and some other parts of the world. ASL has a limited amount of signs, but it is the purest language from the Deaf perspective. If you are using strict ASL and interpreting English, you often fingerspell words for which there are no signs. ASL also has it's own language syntax, distinct from English (more on that in a future blog entry.)

Signed Exact English (SEE) and other variations (Manually Coded English, Pidgin, etc…) are also "sign languages" used by some in North America. These languages typically use ASL signs as the base but add a lot more signs to reflect a larger part of the English vocabulary. This is often done using initialization (letter handshapes as you sign) to help clarify a specific word that otherwise might just be fingerspelled or signed with a conceptual similar word by a user that uses strict ASL.

For example, there isn't an ASL sign for the words LEGISLATURE or CONGRESS, but you can sign the ASL sign for MEMBER using an initialized L-hand to mean legislature or the C-handshape to mean congress. In the example of the word LEGISLATURE, if signing using strict ASL you would fingerspell LEGISLATURE or sign the ASL sign for MEMBER and then fingerspell LEGISLATURE depending on your preference.

And yes, different parts of the world also have their own sign languages, just like there are different spoken languages. Currently, Signing Savvy focuses primarily on signs used in North America.

Regional signs and sign variations

There are also regional signs that you will see in different parts of North America. This is similar to the concept of regional accents in spoken languages, such as the southern drawl vs. the New York accent. Another example of regional variations in spoken languages is how in the north carbonated, sugary drinks are called "pop" and in the south, it is called "soda" or even just "coke." These same sort of regional accents and variations happen with signing, as well. Using one sign over another is not wrong... just different.

It is important to remember as you are learning that you are looking for concepts. There are often times that I, even as a fluent signer, may not catch every single word another person is signing to me but I get the gist of the conversation because I'm catching concepts; much like a speed reader who is skimming the page and catching the majority of the content.

At Signing Savvy, we have tried to include known variations of signs, along with how to fingerspell each word. As you communicate through sign with others in your region, you will find out soon enough what is the more accepted or used sign in your area.

An example of a word with multiple sign variations is HAPPY. As you can see in the image below, Signing Savvy provides 3 sign variations for the word HAPPY, along with the fingerspelled version.

image of Happy sign display

Same signs used for multiple words

Notice the sign for HAPPY can also be used to say CHEER, DELIGHTFUL, GLAD, etc. Once again, sign language is conceptual. The concept of happy is similar to the concept of the other words. It is much like synonyms in English. However, there are times that the same sign is used to refer to different concepts all together. For example, the same sign can be used to say CLEAN or NICE. In this case, it is the context the sign is used in that allows you to understand which meaning is intended.


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Signing Savvy Launches

Site News   |  Sunday, February 22, 2009

By Brian Winn

A little background

In 2005 we realized that, while there were a few good sign language resources on the web, there really was no site that provided a comprehensive reference for those learning sign language. The closest sites out there were the ASL Browser developed at Michigan State University and Signing Online. I was actually involved in the development of both these sites.

The ASL Browser was developed back in 1996-1997. At the time, the site was quite revolutionary. Digital video on the web was just in its infancy. We took the 2500 digital videos from the Personal Communicator CD-ROM developed by Michigan State University (winner of the Discover Magazine Software Innovation of the Year Award in 1995), organized them into a logical fashion, and placed them on the web. It has been the number one reference for American Sign Language on the web for over 10 years. However, it is now showing its age. The signs on the site are small, postage stamp sized videos (which was all that was possible when the site was created.) Further, the site lacks any search functionality or other interactive features, such as the ability to create word lists and print signs.

Signing Online was developed between 2000 and 2003. It is a wonderful series of online courses that teach American Sign Language. If you are looking to take a course and like the convenience of online instruction, I highly recommend them. Signing Online is primarily a set of courses, though. If you already are taking a course or if you already know some signing, what you really need is a reference tool.

Signing Savvy fills the void!

Signing Savvy contains a dictionary of several thousand high-quality video signs complete with sign description and English example sentences. You can find words by searching and by browsing by letter or a number of precompiled semantic word lists. Any word not in the dictionary can be fingerspelled. Best yet, like the ASL Browser, access to the video dictionary is provided free of charge! Our basic service is supported by ad revenue.

When working on Signing Savvy we realized that some of you require more tools and features to support your sign language learning. Therefore, we created a subscription-based member service. Membership adds the ability to view even larger, higher quality video, view video full-screen, print signs for reference off-line, build your own word lists, translate English phrases to a sequence of signs (based on the word order you type), view memory aids of signs, and more! You can preview some of these features by clicking on the link below the sign of the day.

It took us several years to get the site off the ground, but in January 2009 we launched!

What does the future hold for Signing Savvy?

While we already have several thousand signs covering over 5000 English words, we will be continually adding new signs each month, as well as new word lists. In addition to this blog, look forward to a discussion forum and other social networking features coming soon. We are also working on several new member services, such as the ability to quiz yourself or your friends.

Our goal is to be "Your Sign Language Resource!" Feel free to contact us and let us know your needs.


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