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In sign languages, handshape, or dez, refers to the distinctive configurations that the hands take as they are used to form words.[1] In Stokoe terminology it is known as the DEZ, an abbreviation of designator. Handshape is one of five components of a sign, along with location (TAB), orientation (ORI), movement (SIG), and facial-body expression. Different sign languages make use of different handshapes.

In American Sign Language[edit]

A sign language interpreter at a presentation. The two handshapes are the flat (B) hand and the tapered (O or M) hand.

American Sign Language uses 18 handshapes for ordinary signs, plus a few marginal handshapes taken from the American Manual Alphabet for fingerspelling.[2]

Not all handshapes occur with every orientation, movement, or location: there are restrictions. For example, the 5 and F handshapes (the approximate shapes of the hand in fingerspelling 5 and F) only make contact with another part of the body through the tip of the thumb, whereas the K and 8 (a.k.a. Y) handshapes only make contact through the tip of the middle finger, and the X handshape only with the flexed joint of the index finger.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tennant and Brown; Richard A. Tennant; Marianne Gluszak Brown (1998). The American Sign Language handshape dictionary. Gallaudet University Press. p. 407. ISBN 1-56368-043-2.
  2. ^ Stokoe, Casterline, & Croneberg, 1965. A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles, Gallaudet