Crazy: When one hand is needed to do a sign, does it matter whether it is right or left
DrVicars: Which are you right or left handed?
Crazy: I am a mixture.
DrVicars: Then I recommend you choose a dominant hand and stick with it.
Crazy: I used to be left handed, but my parents made me change to my right.
DrVicars: Which hand do you sign checks with now?
Crazy: I use both.
Crazy: Okay, I'll pick one and stick with it.
DrVicars: :) good.
Sharp: Should we be concerned about which hand we use right or left?
DrVicars: You should use your dominant hand for all of the one handed signs. Are you
right or left handed?
DrVicars: LOL, Which hand you eat with?
Sharp: Sorry, I'm right handed!
DrVicars: Fine then--do your spelling and most signs right-handed. In the signs that
one hand moving, it will almost always be the dominant hand. Also you might notice that
both hands move in a sign at the same time--the handshapes are almost always the same.
In a message dated 1/7/2004 12:33:33 PM Pacific
Standard Time, a student writes:
When I sign certain words I use my left hand. I am right handed
and all other times I use my right hand. Should I not switch hands?
If you are right handed, then your right hand should
be used as your "dominant" hand when signing. Your left hand is your
You should use your dominant hand for fingerspelling and also for all
You should use your non-dominant (left) hand as
"partner hand" for signs in which both hands move, and as a "base"
(non-moving) hand for two-handed signs in which only the right hand moves.
If you use your left hand (your non-dominant hand)
for signs that are typically signed with the right hand, deaf people will
still understand you, but you will have the equivalent of a slight
"accent" or a very minor "speech impediment." :)
So, I recommend you practice signing with your
dominant hand and not "switching" back and forth.
Regarding right or left handed signing: I tell my students to choose
a dominant hand and stick with it.
Here are some "rules" for you regarding right/left hand usage:
a. Signs that use one hand: For these signs you should use your
b. Signs that use two hands but only one hand moves: Use your dominant
hand as the hand that moves.
c. Signs that use two hands and both hands move: Use both hands unless you are
holding a drink in one of them. Heh.
It is interesting to note that for almost all signs if both hands are
moving and not in contact with each other then both hands use the same
handshape. (Examples: SIGN, HAPPY, WONDERFUL, FRIENDLY, SUNDAY.)
There are a
few signs in which both hands move but have different
handshapes. But you will notice that the hands tend to touch each
other and stay in contact with each other throughout the whole movement:
Examples: (SHOW, HELP, SURF)
Now, for the sake of discussion, there are times when the non-dominant hand
should be used during one-handed signing. Suppose you are right handed
and are signing about an event you went to last weekend and you wanted to
indicate that someone came up to you on your left and tapped you on your left
shoulder. Even though you are right handed, you should use your left
hand in a "classifier 1" handshape to show the approach of the person and the
tapping of your shoulder. This is basic kinesthetics. It is physically
uncomfortable to reach across your body with your right hand to show the
location of someone standing on your right.
But, back to the point, ambidextrous signing for no particular reason is
the equivalent of having an accent. Even though most deaf people are
reasonably tolerant regarding ambidextrous signing, I still expect my
students to choose a dominant hand and be consistent in their usage.
In a message dated 2/16/2013 6:18:47 A.M. Pacific Standard Time,
a student named Rebecca writes:
I have always been ambidextrous, however, using ASL, I find myself
using my right or left hand using one handed signs. I find myself
doing it without realizing it. Does there have to be a "dominate"
hand at all times?
I strongly encourage you to pick a dominant hand and "stick with it"
to the best of your ability.
-- Dr. Bill
In a message dated 2/16/2013 8:07:26 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, a
student named Rebecca writes:
Regarding a dominant hand, I've been finger spelling with my right
and signing (gesturing) with my left. I read your responses to your
students about using a dominant hand and sticking to it. Honestly, I
don't have a dominant hand. I write with both hands and eat with
both hands. In a nutshell, does that mean that I cannot just
fingerspell with my right and sign with my left?
You could very well go through life just fine spelling with your
right and signing with your left. Deaf people will understand your
signing just fine. There will be a small bit of dissonance at the
back of their mind regarding your variable "handedness." Sort of
like a very small mental itch.
Think of it this way. If someone from another country comes to
America and his/her voice alternates between speaking in higher
tones and lower tones you will still be able to understand him/her.
His/her words will be perfectly understandable yet in the back of
your mind you will think that the foreigner's speech seems a bit
It isn't that there is anything wrong with any individual word; it
is just that the switching between tones in the delivery of the
words seems strange.
In ASL we sometimes switch to our non-dominant hand as a way of
signaling that we are comparing two items. We also sometimes
alternate hands when telling complex stories involving role shifting
Thus if you spell with one hand and sign dominant with the other
there will be a part of our brains that will subconsciously start
expecting or looking for some sort of comparison, role shift, or
other "reason" for the switch.
Another reason for sticking with a dominant hand is that as a matter
of efficiency the brain and perceptual faculties of the viewer (of
your signing) are used to anticipating or predicting hand placements
and locations of typical signs. Disrupting those typical placements
and locations requires the viewer's brain to work a tiny bit harder
to process, categorize, and make sense of what you are signing.
So, I encourage you to decide on a dominant hand and use it for both
the majority of your fingerspelling and your signing.
But hey, if you decide it is just too much of a challenge to stick
to one dominant hand then so be it. There are lots of immigrants who
come to America with an accent who live, love, and work here their
whole lives quite successfully.
-- Dr. Bill
In a message dated 6/15/2005 9:35:16 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
Is a fingerspelled J is made so that it looks like a printed J to the
viewer while the Z is made to look like a Z to the person making
the sign( backwards to the viewer?
Response from Bill: Both the J and the Z look like the printed
letter to the right-handed signer.
The way you describe the J above is backwards. The J starts up, moves
down and curves left (if you are right handed). Left handed people
start the J up move down and curve to the right.