Canadian Fingerspelling

A proposed system that allows for any Canadian Indigenous language to be fingerspelling!

JUMP TO:
Alphabet (video)(photos) / (ASLwrite)Written Descriptions

Syllabics, incl. Blackfoot (video)(photos) / (ASLwrite)Written Descriptions

TO BE ADDED: Dakelh Syllabics (photos) / (ASLwrite) – Written Descriptions

DESCRIPTION OF SYSTEM
Introduction – Full System Overview – Conclusion – Potential Use / Application
Acknowledgements


ALPHABET

Alphabet – Video

Alphabet – Photosalphabet-photos

Note: These photos are temporary. Future photos will be more clear and more diverse.

Alphabet – ASLwritealphabet-aslwrite

To find out more about ASLwrite, go here. ASLwrite is an available resource to anyone to use and adapt to their own language. The use of it here is in relation to ASL and the ease of adaptation for this fingerspelling system; using it was a personal choice, and similar systems could have been used like Signwriting. Feel free to use and adapt this in whichever way you choose!

Alphabet – Written Description

a: ASL letter A.
æ: Ash or A and E in one letter. ASL letter open A. A handshape with extended thumb.
b: ASL letter B.
c: ASL letter C. Tips of fingers face outwards.
č: C with caron over it, also can be C with small V over it. ASL letter C with fingertips facing yourself.
d: ASL letter D.
ð: Eth or curved D with mark at the top. ASL letter L with bent index (or IX) finger like ASL letter X.
e: ASL letter E.
ə / ɨ: Schwa or barred I. Schwa is a lowercase E upside down; barred I is a lowercase I with a bar through it. ASL letter E held with palm facing upwards.
ɛ: Epsilon or open / rounded E. ASL letter E with fingertips touching crossed thumb.
f: ASL letter F.
g: ASL letter G.
h: ASL letter H.
i: ASL letter I.
ı: Dotless I or lowercase I without dot. ASL letter I with palm and fingers facing inwards.
j: ASL letter J.
K: ASL letter K.
L: ASL letter L.
ɬ: Belted L or L with loop and line through it. ASL letter R with extended thumb.
ł: L with stroke or L with diagonal line through it. ASL letter R with extended thumb.
ɫ: L with tilde or L with wave-line through it. ASL letter R with extended thumb.
ⱡ: Double-barred L or L with two horizontal lines through itASL letter R with extended thumb.
l̃: L with superscript tilde or L with wave-line above it. ASL letter R with extended thumb.
Ƚ: Barred L or L with one horizontal line through it. ASL letter R with extended thumb.
λ: Lamba or upside-down Y. ASL letter I with index (or IX) finger extended alongside.
ƛ: Barred lamba or upside-down Y with diagonal line through the tail at the top. ASL ILY handshape with index (IX), pinky and thumb extended and middle and ring fingers curved.
m: ASL letter M.
n: ASL letter N.
ŋ: ASL letter U with extended thumb pointed downwards.
o: ASL letter O.
œ: Ether or O and E together. ASL small-O; ASL number twenty (20) with index and thumb rounded.
p: ASL letter P.
q: ASL letter Q.
r: ASL letter R.
ȓ: ASL letter R in the same orientation as the ASL letter H (palm towards body, fingertips pointed towards centre of body).
s / S*: ASL letter S. Uppercase S* is capital S in SENĆOŦEN’s alphabet.
š / s*: S with caron or S with small V above. ASL letter S with palm towards body. Lowercase s* is a different letter in SENĆOŦEN.
t: ASL letter T.
θ: Theta or zero (0) with a horizontal line in the centre. ASL letter X with thumb inside.
u: ASL letter U.
ʌ: Wedge or upside-down V. ASL letter V with palm inwards and fingertips pointing toward the ground.
v: ASL letter V.
w: ASL letter W.
x: ASL letter X without movement.
χ: ASL letter X with middle finger bent also or ASL letter V bent.
ɣ: ASL number 25 with thumb touching index (IX) finger or ASL letter K with ring and pink fingers touching the middle finger.
y: ASL letter Y.
z: ASL letter Z.
Ɂ: Glottal stop or question mark without the dot. ASL number seven (7).
7: Seven. ASL number seven (7).
‘ : Apostrophe. ASL number seven (7).
, : Comma. ASL number seven (7).
ˀ : Raised glottal stop. ASL number seven (7).
ʕ: Ayin or backwards glottal stop or backwards question mark without the dot. ASL number seven (7) with palm facing inwards.

: Apostrophe above or next to a letter. ASL number one (1) with fingertip touching the the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
´ : Acute accent or small line above letter up and to the right. ASL letter open-A or ASL letter A with extended thumb with the thumb-tip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
` : Grave accent or small line above letter up and to the left. ASL letter I with palm inwards. Tip of pinky finger touches the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
¨ : Diaeresis or umlaut or two dots over the letter. ASL letter V with index (IX) finger touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
ˆ : Circumflex or upside-down small V above the letter. ASL letter L with thumb-tip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
ˇ : Caron or small V above the letter. ASL letter Y with thumb-tip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb and palm facing outwards
˜ : Tilde or horizontal wave line above the letter. ASL letter R with fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
ᶿ : Theta diacritic or small theta / zero (0) with horizontal line through its centre to the right and above the letter. ASL letter X with fingertip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
/ : Slash through the letter from top right to bottom left. ASL letter L with index (IX) fingertip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
ʷ : W diacritic or small W to the right and above the letter. ASL letter W with index (IX) fingertip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
: U diacritic or small U to the right and above the letter. ASL letter W with index (IX) fingertip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
° : O diacritic or small O to the right and above the letter. ASL letter W with index (IX) fingertip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
˛ :Ogonek or small curved line below the letter. ASL letter Y with thumb-tip touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb, palm facing inwards and pinky finger pointed towards the ground.
. : Dot below the letter. ASL letter O with fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
˙ : Dot above the letter. ASL letter O with fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
_ : Horizontal line under the letter. ASL letter B with thumb extended or open-B with palm facing inwards and fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
̰ : Tilde or horizontal wave line under the letter. ASL letter B with thumb extended or open-B with palm facing inwards and fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
̄ : Macron or horizontal line above the letter. ASL letter U with extended thumb with index (IX) and middle fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.
: Horizontal line through the letter. ASL letter U with extended thumb with index (IX) and middle fingertips touching the base of the dominant hand’s thumb.

High tone: Raise the letter upwards slightly.
Low tone: Lower the letter downwards slightly.
Medial tone: Nod the hand similar to ASL word « YES. »
Rising tone: Move letter away from body and upwards.
Falling tone: Move letter away from body and downwards.

SYLLABICS

Syllabics (incl. Blackfoot) – Video

Syllabics (incl. Blackfoot) – Photossyllabary-photos

Syllabics (incl. Blackfoot) – ASLwritesyllabary-aslwrite-2

To find out more about ASLwrite, go here. ASLwrite is an available resource to anyone to use and adapt to their own language. The use of it here is in relation to ASL and the ease of adaptation for this fingerspelling system; using it was a personal choice, and similar systems could have been used like Signwriting. Feel free to use and adapt this in whichever way you choose!

Syllabics (incl. Blackfoot) – Written Description

Syllabics follow a formula. The non-dominant hand is the ASL number five (5) hand where the index (IX) stands for the vowels AI or E or Ê, the middle finger stands for vowels I or Î  or II or Iː or long I, the ring finger stands for the vowels O or Ô or OO or U or Uː or long U and the pinky finger stands for the vowels A or  or AA or Aː or long A. In short:

Index (IX): ai or e
Middle: i
Ring: o or u
Pinky: a

To form a syllabic, the non-dominant hand extends slightly the target finger or vowel and the dominant hand makes a consonant handshape. If the consonant is standing alone without a vowel, it is formed in neutral space similar to the alphabet. As such, below is only the alphabet consonants.

None / Vowel only: ASL number one (1).
p: ASL letter P.
pw: ASL letter V. Does not use index (IX) finger and does not stand alone.
t: ASL letter T.
k: ASL letter K.
g / c / tʃ (ch): ASL letter C.
m: ASL letter M.
n: ASL letter N.
s: ASL letter S.
ʃ (sh): ASL letter S with palm facing inwards.
l: ASL letter L.
y: ASL letter Y.
v / f: ASL letter F.
r: ASL letter R.
w: ASL letter W.
h / Ɂ: ASL letter H.
ð / θ (th): ASL letter X with thumb inside.
q: ASL letter Q.
ng: ASL letter G.
nng: ASL letter H with thumb extended. Does not use index (IX) finger.
ł: ASL letter R with thumb extended. Does not use index (IX) finger.
hk: ASL letter U. Only stands alone.
sk: ASL letter O. Only stands alone.
kw: ASL number 25 with thumb touching middle finger or ASL letter K with ring and pink fingers touching middle finger. Only stands alone.
mw: ASL letter M with palm facing inwards similar to ASL word « MONDAY. »

Dakelh Syllabics

TO BE ADDED

DESCRIPTION

Introduction

Note: I wish I could present this description in ASL, LSQ, MSL, Plains Sign Talk languages, Inuit Uukturausingit and International Sign to be as inclusive as possible, but this is effectively a one-person project (not meaning to ignore the numerous people who have helped me along the way), so doing a video let alone multiple videos for each of those languages is impossible for the time being. I apologise… I will be looking into uploading at least a version in ASL as soon as I am capable.

About Fingerspelling
Fingerspelling, the act of spelling using a manual alphabet, was established to be able to encode alphabetic (and sometime numeric) values through gesture. Modern uses in manual languages are there to allow manual language speakers the ability to borrow or explain words in the local oral language.

Some languages employ fingerspelling heavily, such as the American Sign Language (ASL) spoken in the United States, and others rarely use it, such as Langue des signes Francophone Belge (LSFB) spoken in Wallonia and Brussels of Belgium. Sometimes fingerspelling is used to bring in new concepts or technology names into the local manual language such as an app or scientific discovery.

Current manual alphabets used in Canada
Canada is home to at least six manual languages and two manual alphabets. The first and most widespread is that of ASL and LSQ, the one-handed manual alphabet. Variations on this alphabet are seen in LSF of France and other Francosign languages–that is, languages related to LSF. The other alphabet is the two-handed BANZSL manual alphabet used in languages related to British Sign Language (BSL) and employed in Canada by some MSL speakers on the East coast. (Videos showing MSL)

Limitations
There are a number of limitations in using these manual alphabets. When spelling French words in the one-handed alphabet, letters are confined to the basic Latin alphabet such that noting the difference between [ ç ], [ á ], [ œ ] and [ ü ] is made difficult. While this is not a huge issue–many versions of French allow the erasure of letter differences when writing in capital letters like in titles (e.g., une sœur et son frère vs. UNE SOEUR ET SON FRERE)–there are times when distinction is important such as in spelling things out for someone, especially for legal or similar documents.

Additionally, there is the usage of or borrowing of non-standard letters such as in foreign names or alternative ways of spelling words. In English, some publications still employ “coördinated” and “coöperation.” Names, particularly, become difficult, such as the singer Ayọ or the Hungarian Dávid or the former Polish President Lech Wałęsa.

The focus of this proposal is to circumvent the issues when Indigenous names and words enter English or French. At the moment, it is impossible to properly interpret the commonly used “we are on the unceded, ancestral and historical territory of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓-speaking xʷməθkwəy̓əm people” due to the letters like [ ə ], [ ʷ ] and [ q̓ ]. Interpretation is the act of relating what is said in one language with the inherent meaning and sense of the original language into another. Without properly conveying the name of the peoples whose territories we occupy and the languages spoken by those peoples, it loses the central message of the announcement. In decolonising the space, we are not allowing the decolonisation to happen in Deaf communities through improper interpretation.

Background
This unified system was created by myself out of a need to express topics and my studies in American Sign Language. As of now, it is impossible to interpret words like hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh or ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᐆᒃᑐᕋᐅᓯᖏᑦ. So, in Indigenous spaces or spaces that are starting to decolonise like Indigenous openings to events, it is impossible to decolonise the space for Deaf. Now, standard practice is to say something along the lines of: « NOW FIRST-NATIONS WORDS, » instead of what is being said, even if it is simple like one’s nationality. As such, I saw the need out of my own and out of what I imagine to be similar instances elsewhere across the country. Especially now as we celebrate 150 years since confederation and are putting a focus on reconciliation, it is important to decolonise all spaces regardless of language used.

As I am hearing and not Deaf myself, I am publishing this system without any bad intent, and I urge Deaf, Indigenous and non-Deaf/Indigenous alike to take this system and use it if you see fit / offer suggestions / offer critiques. My personal background is that of former student of the University of British Columbia with a BA in interdisciplinary studies. I focused on the politics of Indigenous and Deaf languages (manual and oral) and cultures. Read more in About Me.

Challenges
There were / are a number of challenges that presented themselves to me. First and foremost was the fact that there were two alphabetic systems in use (Latin/NAPA and SENĆOŦEN) and three syllabaries (Canadian « standard, » Blackfoot and Dakelh) (Read more about the writing systems here). The syllabaries caused me quite some trouble, especially when I found a good resource on Dene syllabics and realised that the number of letters almost doubled. The basic “standard” Canadian syllabics (meaning used for Anishinaabemowin, Cree and Inuktitut) and Blackfoot’s were especially easy as they complimented each other quite readily. The Dakelh syllabary was especially interesting from the fact that there are six baseline vowels and a great number of consonants.

Another large challenge proved to be the overlap of sounds and letters across different alphabets, sometimes for the same language. It became my idea to base handshapes and movements on the surface form rather than the underlying sound, especially in light of the audience being predominantly deaf. The thinking is that users of this fingerspelling system will spell out whatever writing system (or orthography) is in use.

Usability
I created this system to be as useable and straightforward as possible. As such, the number of letters was minimised and the number of diacritics (extra markers like [ ˛ + e = ę ] or [ – + T = Ŧ ]) was maximised to allow for the most flexibility. The results are that the basic Latin alphabet and additional letters are represented with one hand but any additional markings make it two-handed. The large inventory of diacritics, accents and tones means that the rate of spelling words using this system will likely be slower than standard fingerspelling in ASL, LSQ or MSL. However, a slightly slower speed is optimal if it means access is achieved at least in part for Deaf Canadians.

Full System Overview

The system shown above and below in the diagrams include the letter or syllabic, a photo of the handshape/movement and how to write it in ASLwrite. ASLwrite is the most complete, open-source writing system for ASL, and my usage here is to promote this orthography (writing system).

Syllabaries
The syllabaries are composed of a consonant and vowel for the most part. As such, I took the MSL / BANZSL manual alphabet and repurposed it to enable simultaneous transmission of consonant–vowel information. As the number of MSL speakers who use the two-handed manual alphabet are diminishing, the thinking is that as many are already adjusted to a one-handed alphabet, use of the one-handed alphabet for Latin letters will not be overwhelming for the majority.

As the most used syllabary in Canada is structured such that it goes E–I–O-A, I decided to transpose this into my system. As such, following the BANZSL system of: A–thumb, E–index, I–middle, O–ring, U–pinky, I chose to establish the non-dominant hand as the vowel notation. It has become: E–index, I–middle, O–ring, A–pinky and derivations therein. For this system, I decided to configure the Blackfoot and Dakelh syllabaries around this framework for simplicity.

The Dakelh syllabary and the Dene syllabary/ies have not been included due to the difficulty of their addition. This system is intended to be a first version from which users, myself or anyone else can suggest updates to make it more useable (this is the hope at least). I apologise to speakers of these languages, I do not mean any slight by exclusion!

Alphabets
The alphabet was built from the basic Latin alphabet to include 20 additional letters that can be found across all Indigenous languages that do not use syllabics. Handshapes were matched as closely as possible to both the resemblance of the letter and to other similar letters. The only handshape dramatically different is that for [ ɣ ] for which I substituted the 19-handshape or LSF’s F-handshape.

Use of SENĆOŦEN letters were matched with their lower-case equivalents except in the case of [ s ] which sees an optional difference between [ S ], taking on the same configuration as [ š ] as SENĆOŦEN has no [ š ] nor any [ ʃ ]-sound. Additional points are: Mi’kmaq’s [ ɨ ] which is a [ ə ]-sound, so I matched it with [ ə ]; the diverse [ L ]s which all share the same handshape as no language has more than two non-Latin [ L ]s; and Iñupiaq’s [ ȓ ] which has no equivalent in any other language. Finally, the [ x ] changed from a handshape and movement in standard Canadian ASL to just the X-handshape in this system. This is because of the complexity surrounding non-dominant hand modifiers when using diacritics. The other two letters composed of both a handshape and movement are [ j ] and [ z ]. While [ j ] has no diacritic marking in any Indigenous language, [ z ] does in examples like [ ẓ ], [ ẕ ] and [ ž ]. As such, the marking is slightly difficult, and I am in the process of establishing a possible better solution.

Certain letters can be created with the base Latin letter or as a unique character. This is the case with [ l̃ ], [ Ƚ ], [ č ] and [ š ]. For the [ L ]s, the languages from which they come do not have a third [ L ], and thus it is simpler to use the more frequent secondary [ L ] handshape. For [ č ] and [ š ], both are highly frequent in languages, making the [ tʃ ] and [ ʃ ] sounds, respectively, and their handshape is simple to make and easy to identify. As such, it seemed easiest to have a handshape available since a high number of languages employ both.

Diacritics
The diacritics, or extra markings on letters, are integral in many languages from Nuučaan̓uł to Nisg̱a’a to Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim. If one were to count each letter+diacritic as a unique combination that deserves a handshape, there would not be enough, unique configurations of one’s hand to accomplish this task. It could, in theory, be possible to do so if locations were accounted for, but as both the one- and two-handed alphabets do not take location on the body/face into consideration (unlike other languages like Majel), I thought instead to resort to a two-handed alternative.

Diacritics are marked using the non-dominant hand to make one of fourteen handshapes that connect to the base of the thumb. In special cases, as with [ ŋ ] and [ z ], the non-dominant hand does not make connection with the thumb’s base but, rather, the tip of the thumb [ ŋ ] or the space adjacent to the moving hand [ z ]. Finally, there are three diacritics that use the same handshape: [ ʷ ], [ ᵘ ] and [ ° ]. Innu’s [ ᵘ ] and Secwepemctsin’s [ ° ] make the same sound as [ ʷ ] which rounds the lips to a [ w ] shape while making the consonant before like [ x ] in [ xʷ ] or [ q ] in [ qʷ ].

Tone
Tone was harder to make as I have little relation with a tonal language. As it falls on vowels, I decided to have a system of movement to complement the two-handed (mostly) stationary alphabet. There are five tones found in Indigenous languages in Canada: high, low, rising, falling and medial. As such, I ascribed an upward motion for high, downward for low, outwardly-upwardly curved motion for rising, outwardly-downwardly curved motion for falling and a nodding motion (like ASL’s ‘YES’) for medial.

Conclusion

Use in English and French
The use for English and French change little. The use of special characters like [ á ] or [ ç ] or [ ö ] in certain words or borrowed words would be able to be done, though thorough understanding would be limited unless there is widespread adoption of this system.

Potential for use
Other than solely English and French, this allows for the use of Indigenous words, names and phrases in English and French to manual language interpretation. As we are entering the 150th year since confederation, and as we are increasingly trying to reconcile between our settler and Indigenous populations, this system would do well to allow for interpreters and Deaf alike to borrow or use Indigenous words.

Specific applications for use could be:

– Interpreting Indigenous words or phrases

– Allow for use of Indigenous words in Deaf conversations

– Official government announcements

– Indigenous second language teaching for Deaf

– Accessibility for Deaf students in Indigenous classes and departments in schools

– Allows for Indigenous Canadians to be able to fingerspell their names

– Precedent-setting for other Indigenous languages such as in the States, South America, Australia, etc.

– Offers ability for Inuit Uukturausingit and Plains Sign Talk language speakers to adopt a fingerspelling system if they wish

– …more!

Acknowledgements

I wish to give a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped me along the way on this project. To my boyfriend Russell Copley, thank you for giving immensely helpful feedback and for sticking around when I am being a nudge. To my friends Bridget Chase, Stephanie Wood, TJ Heins and more for giving wonderful support and feedback. To my roommate Madeleine Wilson for sticking with my insanity. To my professors Jorge Roses Labrada, Mark Turin, Sheryl Lightfoot and more for the wonderful support and teachings given to both this project and to my understandings of respect, reconciliation and making/taking space. To my parents for being wonderfully supportive at every turn in my life. Finally, to the ASLwrite community, specifically Adrean Clark, for their work on the wonderful writing system that made this project much more manageable on my end.