top of page

Learning ASL: The Signer’s Space, Parameters, and More!

American Sign Language (ASL) is a recognized language, like English, Spanish, French or Chinese. Just like any other viable language, ASL includes systems, signals, and a set of rules. 


An image of a child,outlined in black, holding up the ASL number three. Around the child is a circle indicating the area in which a signer produces signs.
The Signer's Space

A language is a system of relatively arbitrary symbols and grammatical signals that change across time and that members of a community share and use for several purposes: to interact with each other, to communicate their ideas, emotions, and intentions, and to transmit their culture from generations to generations.” —page 31, American Sign Language Green Books, A Teacher’s Resource Text on Grammar and Culture by Charlotte Baker-Shenk and Dennis Cokely.


Let’s explore the system and the basic guidelines for ASL. With these tools, you’ll be on your way to signing in no time!


Introduction to Signing Parameters

Sign language has signing parameters for hand shape, location, and movement. All that happens within an imaginary frame around the signer is known as the signer’s space.


Every sign in American Sign Language is made from one or more of these four parameters, along with facial expressions. All together, these five parts determine the intended communication.


Handshape: When you learn the ASL Alphabet, you learn twenty-six handshapes. For example, a closed fist represents the letter S. Holding up your last three fingers represents the letter F. When you hold up your pointer finger, the letter D is formed. 


  1. Location: Next is the location of a sign. An open five-hand shape on the signer's chin begins the sign for “Mom.” That same handshape on the signer’s forehead begins the sign for “Dad.” 


  1. Palm Orientation: Take the B handshape, in which the palm faces away from the signer toward another person; that’s the sign for “yours.” Placing the B handshape on one’s chest is the sign for “my.”


  1. Movement: Adding movement to signs also affects their meaning. The open five-handshape tapped twice on the chin is the sign for “Mom.” Arching that handshape from the chin outward twice is the sign for “Grandma.” Letters can also have movement, such as the letters Z and J. The pinkie finger traces the letter J in the air. For Z, the index finger traces the letter Z in the air. 


  1. Facial Expression: This is also called a non-manual marker. Expressions are vital to conveying an accurate message. Notice that when signing “HAPPY” and “SAD,” the signer’s facial expression matches the meaning or feeling of the sign.


If you’ve purchased my book My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, you can use the QR code to access a video of Deaf storytellers Diana Campbell and Michelle Osterhout signing the book. Notice their expressions as they convey many different emotions throughout the story. 


If you're looking to enhance your knowledge of signing parameters, I highly recommend checking out my freebies page. There, you can download an array of valuable materials that will take your understanding to the next level. Don't wait—take advantage of this opportunity today!


ASL: The Signer’s Space:

How to “Listen” to a Signer’s Hands 


The signer uses a designated space to produce signs, tell a story, or even share how to fix a broken monster truck. 


A page from My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy is signing LOOK to his Grandmother. His purple monster truck is flipped upside down and hooked to a blue tow truck. A silver wrench lays on the green plaid table cover. The boy and his Grandmother's expressions are happy. The page reads, "LOOK! My purple monster truck flipped over. A tow truck will come and tow him away. Then I will fix him with my wrench. He will be as good as new."
A page from My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me, illustrating the sign “LOOK.”

The space shown in the circle represents the signer’s space. The boy is holding up three fingers. In ASL, this is the “number three” or “three” sign. You will see it signed with the palm either facing the signer or away from them. Notice where the boy’s hand is—this is the space you use to fingerspell or count. Remember to hold your hand steady: bouncing makes those listening with their eyes feel dizzy.


When watching someone sign, focus on the signer’s face. Facial expressions (those non-manual markers) convey the signer’s intention. Your peripheral vision will pick up the hand movements. Avoid the tendency to focus only on the signer’s hand. 

The signer's space for ASL is the area in this imaginary circle.  An image of a child,outlined in black, holding up the ASL number three. Around the child is a circle indicating the area in which a signer produces signs.
The Signer's Space

The boy in the circle is signing the number three. These specific fingers always represent “three” in ASL. Holding up your last three fingers would be the number nine. Holding up your three middle fingers is the number six. 


This signer’s space is the stage where ASL comes alive. Tell a story, share an experience, discuss philosophy, literature, football, cars, or summer vacations. Sign language can convey anything a spoken language does. 


One Hand or Two

Some signs are made with one hand, some with two, and some can be signed either single-handed or double-handed. 


Sign language is an inclusive form of communication, an untapped resource with limitless potential for all. Many signs, such as "SAD," "GONE," "MORNING," and "NIGHT," require the use of both hands. These four signs below, beautifully illustrated by Deaf Illustrator Isaac Liang, are featured in My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. Use the QR code found in the book to watch the video book narrated by Deaf storyteller Michelle Osterhout to embark on a journey to learn all 32 signs with variations.  


Four pages from My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me illustrating signs made with two hands.

Watch Michelle Osterhout, using the QR code in the book, to learn how to sign all 32 signs with variations.  


In the sign for "SAD," both hands produce the same handshapes, palm orientations, and movements, while the facial expression depicts sadness.


Some signs can be made with one or two hands. Here are two examples: 


Image Description: This spread shows Mom, the main character, a blue-eyed blond-haired boy, and his grandmother in the living room. Behind them is a couch, a shelf with photos, and a vase of flowers. The Grandmother is holding a favorite purple monster truck with a smile on her face. A happy child is signing “THANK YOU.” This is illustrated by singing THANK YOU, starting with the fingers of both hands near his lips. His hands are in a flat handshape. He moves his hands forward and towards the person he is thanking.  The text reads, “Grandma smiles. She hands me my monster truck. “Oh, THANK YOU, Mimi!” The second page shows a child excitedly holding his purple monster truck in the air while mom and grandmother watch him with smiles on their faces. The child signs “HAPPY” with one hand,   The sign for "happy" is made by placing one or both of your hands in front of you.  Use "flat" hands, palms pointing back.  Circle your hands forward, down, back, up, forward, down, back, up.  Both hands move at the same time and in the same direction. On the upward swing the hands are very close to your chest or touch your chest.  On the downward swing your hands are further away from your chest.
Two pages from My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. Illustrating how to sign "THANK YOU" and "HAPPY." Watch Michelle Osterhout, using the QR code in the book, to learn how to sign all 32 signs with variations.

A very happy “THANK YOU” in my book My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me was signed using two hands. A more casual “THANK YOU ” can be signed using only one hand.


In the story, “HAPPY” is signed with one hand. The main character, a little boy, is happily holding his truck in the other hand. “Happy” is often signed with two hands to express great joy. 


Classifiers: Another Aspect of ASL

A classifier is introduced on the first page of My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me. Classifiers can be lots of fun, making storytelling a breeze. Classifiers visually illustrate the size, shape, location, and movement of objects or people.


Read more about classifiers in our blog  ASL Classifiers for Monster Trucks, Cars, and People.


Interested in Learning More? 

Click here for free downloads of ASL Picture Books supplemental pages about ASL Classifiers for monster trucks, cars, people, and other key information on the basics of American Sign Language. 


Display of five colorful and graphic pages available for FREE, downloadable information about ASL. Covering signers space, classifiers, and the variances of BIG. A beautiful ASL Alphabet Chart.
Download these FREE ASL Picture Books resources covering American Sign Language basics, including a beautiful ASL Alphabet Chart. They are perfect for families, educators, and anyone who wants to learn ASL. Unlock the limitless potential of ASL in your life today.

We Hope you enjoyed learning about ASL classifiers for monster trucks, cars and people.

Leave a Comment





ASL Resources:

Sources:


Baker-Shenk, Charlotte, and Dennis Cokely. 1991. American Sign Language Green Books, A Teacher’s Resource Text on Grammar and Culture. Gallaudet University Press.


“Non-Manual Signals in Sign Language.” 2016. Handspeak (blog). May 5, 2016. https://www.handspeak.com/learn/158/.









Thank you for exploring our blog!

If you enjoyed the content and would like to receive regular updates, exclusive resources, and special offers related to ASL Picture Books, I invite you to join our growing community of subscribers. By subscribing to our email list, you'll access valuable insights, interactive content, and the latest news straight to your inbox.



Catch Up With These Popular Posts!








Dylan, reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me There is Grandmas signing house, Mom and Dylan stand in front. the next page shows the blond boy character holding half a sandwich in front of his purple monster truck while looking at his Grandmother.
Dylan, reading My Monster Truck Goes Everywhere with Me

American Sign Language is a beautiful and powerful language, an untapped resource with limitless potential.


Every child has a gift to give ASL can help them discover and express it.





Thank You!

































 ADD VIDEOS for Michelle and Diana signing Morning, GONE, or other words. 





Sources

Baker-Shenk, Charlotte, and Dennis Cokely. 1991. American Sign Language Green Books, A Teacher’s Resource Text on Grammar and Culture. Gallaudet University Press.


“Non-Manual Signals in Sign Language.” 2016. Handspeak (blog). May 5, 2016. https://www.handspeak.com/learn/158/


Recent Posts

See All

Comments


bottom of page