Anything Left-Handed > Left handed life > Left handed sign language for the deaf

Left handed sign language for the deaf

We recently had a message from Scott Conlan that encouraged us to do a bit of research. Sign language is used by deaf people as a system of communication using visual gestures and signs and your handedness clearly has an impact on how it is used and understood.

Hi, All!

Has there ever been a study of the percentage of lefties, hearing impaired and/or hearing, who communicate fully or partially in ASL (American Sign Language) and the associated benefits or challenges in signing as a leftie? I am an adult leftie, minimally hearing impaired, and am trying to learn signing. Any insights?

The British Sign Language (BSL) website has a section on left-handed signing and they say:

“Left handed people who have just started to learn Sign Language often get a little bit confused about which hand they should be using as their dominant hand. The answer is that you should use which ever hand you feel most comfortable using, but you must remember to always use the same hand as your dominant hand… by swapping hands you can cause much confusion with those trying to read you.”

Their online dictionary of signs has a selection button at the top so you can choose to display any of them in left or right-handed versions and they have a left-handed finger spelling chart. Left handed sign for coffee

Finger spelling left handed

We found this site about learning American Sign Language (ASL) which breaks down the different types of sign and how the dominant hand is used:

  • One-handed signs

    Uses only your dominant hand.

  • Two-handed symmetrical signs

    Uses both your dominant and non-dominant hand where they both move the same way

  • Two-handed non-symmetrical signs

    Uses both your dominant and non-dominant hand where the dominant hand moves while the non-dominant hand remains stationary.

ASL is very different from BSL for historical reasons. There are records of a sign language for the deaf in Britain going back to 1570 and it has evolved from these origins by modification, invention and importation. ASL developed out of a system brought to the U.S. in the 19th century by a French teacher of the deaf. The signs used in the French system, mixed with signs that had been invented in America, combined to make ASL. There are some similarities (about 30% of the signs are the same), just like spoken languages have similarities, but they are not mutually intelligible.

We would be very interested in your experiences and comments regarding left-handed sign language so please add your views as comments below.

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