Carlton Hand Sign

The purpose of Carlton Hand Sign™ is to provide a much simpler, easier to learn and use sign language for anyone needing to communicate without sound. Carlton Hand Sign™ requires only one hand, is based on phonetics, not word meaning and is therefore easier to learn and use. The consonants are derived from the hand shape, while the vowels are derived from the hand movement, allowing the "speaker" the ability to communicate both consonant and vowel together. The consonant shapes are geared to mimic, as much as possible the shape of the mouth when communicating.

Why would we need another sign language?

While we in the US are familiar with ASL (American Sign Language) and our media tends to present it as a universal sign language, it is only used in America. Other countries have developed their own sign languages. Even though American and British hearing people can communicate with almost no confusion, ASL and BSL (British sign language) differ tremendously.

Trying to iron out the differences would be virtually impossible, considering how many nations there are and how many sign languages there are. But for some odd reason it seems all sign languages are meaning based, rather than sound based. We would assume this might be because deaf people can't hear the sounds so the phonetics of the words would be of little use to them, yet other than some Asian languages, all our written languages are phonetic based, and deaf people still use those

Carlton Hand Sign™ is designed to be purely phonetic based so that it can become an international phonetic hand sign, adaptable to the pronunciation of words in any language. Being phonetic based there will be fewer signs to learn, thus making it easier to learn, and thus making it more likely hearing people will learn it, allowing deaf people to communicate even more easily with other people.

In addition, Carlton Hand Sign™ can be easily adapted to regional accents. An American using it would sign slightly different than someone from England or from Australia. There would even be a subtle differences between Americans and Canadians. Brits from London would sign slightly differently than Brits from Manchester, just as Americans from Boston would sign slightly different than Americans from Texas. Since the signs represent sounds, the viewer can see the sound being signed and therefore actually see, not just the message communicated, but the accent of the signer.

The signs are simple and only require the position of the hand and finger as well as the movement of the hand. The signs could be performed even with gloves, so two scuba divers could communicate freely with one another deep underwater with no need of a radio. Industrial workers wearing hazmat suits could also communicate in full sentences to each other even with thick gloves. The military applications alone make it a valuable resource. Imagine a soldier on the battle field, during radio silence, signing full sentences to another soldier watching through binoculars.

Since Carlton Hand Sign™ requires only one hand, it makes it more versatile and useful in situation when one hand is needed for something else, but silent communication is required.

Who would need it?

First of all, ASL, BSL and all the other currently used sign languages are actually very beautiful to watch. They can be artistic and expressive. Just as the Chinese still use traditional Chinese calligraphy, while adopting a phonetic version of their characters, I don't imagine the deaf community would abandon their current sign languages any time soon. Nor would I want them to. Carlton Hand Sign™ would function as a more modern form of communication that would allow a wider use of communication methods, bridging the communication gap between the Deaf Community and the population at large.

Professional who find themselves in environments where vocal communication is difficult, if not impossible, could use Carlton Hand Sign™ for ease of communication without resorting to added and expensive technology.

Carlton Hand Sign™ could be utilized in virtually every branch of the military, making a more accurate communication much easier while also maintaining physical or radio silence.

Due to the phonetic nature of Carlton Hand Sign™ hearing impaired children could more easily grasp the fundamentals of the mechanics of speech, making it easier for them to learn to speak as well as understand others through lip reading.

  1. Most words would start with a consonant and vowel together. (example: right palm facing left, thumb touching tips of fingers, hand moving down would be the word "be" or "bee") it would be understood that a consonant and vowel together would mean we are starting with the consonant, then moving to the vowel.
  2. For words beginning and ending with a consonant we would open the hand midway through the vowel the "snap" the fingers together for the ending consonant.
  3. To combine two beginning consonants we would begin with the first consonant shape and move in the direction of the vowel, but switch to the second consonant about a quarter of the way through the vowel movement. More frequently used double consonants (example: pr, pl, br, bl, kr, kl, etc.) can be combined into a single shape. For example the fingers curled with the thumb out would be "pr", the finger held tight with the third knuckles straight and the thumb out would be "tr".
  4. For words beginning with a vowel we use the open vowel shape (relaxed hand, fingers slightly bent, thumb in) in begin the vowel movement, ending with the consonant shape.

The speaker can use both hands, simultaneously, for emphasis or to imply a raised voice. Ideally the "speaker" would use the right hand for most communications, and reserve the left hand to use when translating for someone else.

Motions are from the speaker's perspective, and using the right hand. Using the left hand all side to side directions are reversed
sounds like
(as in sheet)
(as in note)
upward-right to left (inward) arch
(as in boot)
right to left (inward), straight line
(as in bat)
left to right, upward arch
(as in bet)
out, away from body
(as in sit)
right to left (inward), downward arch
(as in but)
left to right (outward), downward arch
(as in ball)
in, toward the body
(as in book)
left to right, straight line
(as in pie)
in, toward body "ah", then down "E"
(as in bait)
out, away from body "e", then down "E"
(as in toil)
upward, inward arch ("O"), then down ("E")
(as in cloud)
in, toward the body ("ah"), then straight left ("oo")
Special Sounds
(as in poor)
upward, inward arch ("O"), ending with "r"

Unvoiced (lower case below) palm down (or out) fingers on top.
Voiced (upper case below) palm inward, fingers out.
So "P" (an unvoiced plosive) would be thumb and fingertips together, palm facing away, and "B" (a voiced plosive) would be thumb and fingertips together, palm in towards your body (faceing left when done with the right hand), or "B" would be the "P" rotated 90 degrees outward.

Plosives: fingers can pop open (for effect or to allow an ending consonant)
mouse over letter to view sign.

p,B -- tips of fingers together
t,D -- thumb under tips of fingers, fingers slightly bent
k,G -- thumb at base of fingers, fingers straight

Fricatives and Affricatives:
f,V -- thumb over tips of fingers
th,TH -- thumb touching tips of ring and pinky, index and middle fingers up (the peace sign, except with fingers together)
s,Z -- index finger up, other fingers thumb over other fingers*
sh,ZH -- pinky up, thumb in front of other fingers*
ch,J-- pinky up, thumb under fingers*

r** -- fist closed, thumb out.
l*** -- thumb and index finger out, others down
y -- thumb and pinky out, others down
w -- thumb index and middle finger up, spread apart, others down
  the same sign with index and middle finger held together would be "thr" or "THr"
h -- thumb in, other four fingers straight up (make sure they're straight or it will look like the vowel alone sign)

*The "s" and some plosives can be combined. By doing the "p" sign and lifting the index finger, we create the "sp" sign. The same can be done with other unvoiced plosives like "t" to make "st" and "k" to make the "sk" sound.

** The plosives k", "G" and the fricative "th" can be combined with "r", so the consonant combinations "kr", "gr" or "thr" can be done with a single sign. For "kr" and "Gr" keep the fingers straight with the thumb out. For "thr" hold the index and middle fingers up and together (to avoid confusion with "w") and the thumb out. The consonants "p" and "B" can also be use with "r" by curving the fingers making an upside-down U shape, with the thumb out, making "pr" and "br". For plosives "t", "D" used with "r" curl the finger tightly with the tips of the fingers as close to the top of the palm as you can, and leave the thumb out to make "tr" and "dr".

*** Also some plosives can be combined with the following "l" as in "pl" and "bl".

m -- thumb and middle together other fingers up
n -- thumb and index finger together, other fingers up (ok sign)
ng -- fist, thumb to the side. (always at end of word)
The "nj" sound like at the end of "orange" or "strange" can be simplified by turning the "ng" on its side.

Relaxed open hand (fingers slightly bent) means no sound (allows speaker to reset position)
Relaxed open hand with thumb in means vowel sound.


There are 11 vowels, 24 consonants and 4 vowel dipthongs. Below are some beginning exercises to help you practice the simpler words and speed up your ability to convert the sound of the word into the handsign.

Vowels will be in the order: bat, book, butt, beet, bit, boot, boat, boy, bot, bite, bet, bait and bout.
They go around the directions clockwise and include dipthongs. Technically there are other dipthong sounds, but they are so nuanced (at least in Oklahoma, which is the pronunciation I am most familiar with) that they are rarely pronounced as an actual dipthings. Fortunately Carlton Hand Sign™ is flexible enough that it will allow for regional accents if you want to adjust the vowels to match how you pronounce words.

Consonants will be in the order: p, B, t, D, k, G, f, V, s, Z, th, TH, sh, ZH, ch, J, n, m, r, l, h, y, w, ng

(Excuse the occasional vulgarities, they are words, and they still make worthwhile practice words)

pee, poo, pa, pie, pay, pow, pap, pup, peep, pip, poop, pope, pop, pipe, pep, bee,
boo, bough, boy, buy, bay, bow, bub, bib, boob, Bob, babe, pub, beep, bip, boop, bop

tea, two, tow, toy, tie, tap, tip, top, type, tape, tab, tub, tube, pat, put, putt,
peet, pit, pot, pet, bat, but, beat, bit, boot, boat, bought, bite, bet, bait

duh, Dee, do, dough, die, day, dap, deep, dip, dupe, dope, dept, dab, dub, dib,
dot, debt, date, dad, dud, deed, did, dude, died, dead, Dade

key, coo, coy, Kaye, cow, cap, cup, keep, kip, coop, cope, cop, kept, cape, cab, cub, cob,
cat, cut, kit, coot, coat, cot, kite, Kate, cad, could, cud, keyed, id, cooed, code,
cod, cook, cuck, kick, kook, coke, cake

goo, go, guy, gay, gap, goop, gape, gab, Gabe, gat, gut, git, goat, got, get, gate,
gad, good, goad, God, guide, geek, gag, gig

fee, fop, fab, fib, fob, fat, foot, feet, fit, fought, fight, fate, fad, feed, food,
fed, fade, fig, fog, fife, vie, vow, vape, vibe, vat, vote, vet, vied, vogue, vague

see, sue, so, soy, saw, sigh, say, sow, sap, sup, seep, sip, soup, soap, sop, sub, sob, sat, soot,
seat, sit, suit, sought, site, set ,sad, seed, Sid, sued, sewed, sod, sighed, said, sade,
sack, safe, salve, save, sass, cease, sis, Seuss, sauce, zoo, zap, zip, zit, zoot, Zack, Zeke, zag, zig, zazz, zoos

thaw, thigh, thought, thud, thug, thief, thieve, thaws, thighs, the, thee, though,
thy, they, that, they'd, they've, thus, this, these, those

she, shoe, show, shy, sheep, ship, shop, shape, shut, sheet, shoot, shot, shold, she'd,
shoed, showed, shod, shyed, shed, shade, shack, shook, shuck, shiek, shock, shake, shag,
sheaf, chef, shove, shave, she's, shoes, shows, shy, shies, sheath(n), sheath(v)

chew, chai, chow, chap, cheap, chip, chop, chub, chat, cheat, chad, chewed, chide, chuck, cheek,
chick, choke, chalk, check, chug, chaff, chief, chafe, chive, chess, chase, Chaz, cheese, choose, chose

Jew, Joe, joy, Jay, jaw, jeep, gyp, jab, jib, Job (the bok of the Bible, prononced wiht a long-O),
jut, jot, jet, jawed, Jed, jade, Jack, joke, jock, Jake, jag, jug, jig, jog, jif, Jeff, jive,
juice, joss, Jess, Jace, jazz, Jews, jaws, Josh, Jan, Gene, gin, JJune, Joan, Jen, Jane, jam,
Jim, gem, jeer, jar, Jill, jewel, Joel, gel, jail, jowel

knee, new, no, gnaw, nigh, neigh, now, nap, nip, nope, nape, nab, nub, nib, noob, knob, gnat,
nut, neat, knit, newt, note, not, night, net, Nate, need, nude, node, nad, Ned, knack, nook,
Nick, nuke, knock, neck, nag, nog, knife, nave, neice, noose, nice, knees, news, nose, nash,
gnash, notch, nudge

me, moo, mow, ma, my, meh, may, map, mope, mop, mob, mat, mutt, meet, mute, mote, might, met,
mate, mad, mud, mead, md, mood, mode, mold, made, Mac, muck, meek, Mick, mock, Mike, make, mag,
mug, muff, move, mauve, math, myth, moth, meth, mouth, mash, moosh, mush, mesh, match, much, Mitch,
mooch, man, mean, moon, moan, mine, men, main, ma'am, mum, meme, mom, mime, mame, mere, mire,
mare, mull, meal, mill, mole, mall, mile, male

rue, row, Roy, raw, ray, rap, reap, rip, rope, ripe, rep, rub, rib, rube, robe, rob, reb, rat, root, rut,
writ, wrote, rot, write, rate, route, rad, reed, rid, rude, road, rod, ride, red, raid, rack, rook,
reek, Rick, rock, wreck, rake, rag, rug, rig, rogue, roof, ruff, reef, riff, roof, rife, ref, rove,
rave, Russ, Reece, Ross, rice, razz, ruse, rose, Roz, rise, raise, rouse, wrath, Ruth, wroth, wraith,
writhe, rash, rush, rouge, reach, rich, roach, wretch, ridge, Reg, rage, ran, run, rune, Ron, rine,
rain, ram, rum, eam, rim, room, roam, rom, rhyme, rem, rear, roar, rare, real, rill, rule, roll,
rile, rail, rung, ring, wrong, rang

low, law, lie, lay, lap, leap, lip, loop, lope, lop, lab, lube, lobe, lob, lat, lit, loot, lot,
light, let, late, lad, lead, lid, lewd, loadl, lied, led, laid, loud, lack, look, luck, leak, lick,
Luke, lock, like, lake, lag, lug, log, leg, laugh, leaf, loaf, life, love, leave, live (noun),
live (adverb), lass, lease, loose (adjective), loss, lice, less, lace, louse, Liz, loose (verb),
lies, latch, leach, letch, lodge, ledge, lan, lean, Lynn, loon, loan, lawn, line, lane, lamb,
limb, loom, loam, lime, lame, leer, lure, lier, lair, lull, Lil, Lyle, lung, long

huh, he, who, hoe, ha, high, hey, heap, hip, hoop, hope, hop, hype, hub, hat, ut, heat, hit, hoot,
hot, hight, hate, had, hood, hud, heed, hid, who'd, hoed, hawed, hide, head, hack, hook, Huck,
hick, hawk, hike, heck, hag, hug, hog, hoof, huff, have, heave, hive, hiss, hoss, house, has, he's,
his, who's, hoes, haze, hath, hash, hush, hatch, hutch, hitch, hooch, hedge, hun, hone, hen, ham,
hum, him, whom, hem, hear, who're, hire, hair, how're, Hal, hull, heal, hill, who'll, hole, hawl,
hell hail, howl, hung, hang

yeah, you, yo, yaw, Yey!, yap, yup, yipe, yep, yet, you'd, yack, yuck, yeek, yick, yike, you've,
youth, we, woo, woah, why, wigh, weep, whip. wipe, web, wheat, wit, what, white, wet, wait, would,
weed, wooed, wad, wide, wed, wade, wowed, whack, weak, wick, woke, woc, wake, wag, wig, wife, waif,
weave, wove, wave, was, whizz, woes, wize, wyas, wows, with, wiash, whoosh, wash, witch, watch,
wean, win, wine, when, wain, wham, whim, womb, were, we're, war, wire, where, wheel, will, wool,
wall, while, well, whale, wing

Advanced Practice...

Many words that begin with two consonants can have a single hand shape to designate both consonants.

PR (as in pray) would take the normal P shape, thumb touching tips of fingers, facing forward (away from you) but instead hold the thumb out while keeping the fingers in the same, curved position. BR would be the same thing, except on it's side so the thumb would be sticking straight up.

TR (as in tray) would curve the first two knuckles of the fingers (counting from the tips of the fingers inward) while holding the third knuckle (the one just above the palm) straight. The thumb would be held out to complete the sign. DR would be the same, but on its side with the thumb up.

KR would be the basic "K" sign, but with the thumb out. And of course GR would be the same yet with the thumb up.

The beginning consonants of the word "three" would be exactly like the "W" sing except with the fingers held tightly together. That's why it's important that the "W" sign be done with the fingers held apart, to distinguish between the two.

To do PL, is a bit more difficult and as time goes on, it may prove to be more confusing, but for now make the "P" sign and hold the outer three fingers in the curve while making the "L" sign with the index finger and thumb. The "BR" sign would be same the same yet on its side.

The "KL" combination (as in the word "clay" or "clear") could be done the same way, sarting with the fingers straight for the "K" sign and forming the "L" sign with the index finger and thumb. And of course GL (as in "glue" or "gleam") would be the same, exceot on its side.

While it's not used as often, I found that the "nj" sound (as in the ending of the word "orange") could also do with it's own sign. Sing the "n" sign (basically the okay sign) wouldn't nned a voiced alternative, we can use it on it's side to mean the "nj" sound. So "orange" would be signed, open hand-O direction, R-sign, uh-direction, ending with a sideways "n".

Carlton Hand Sign™ is Copyright © 1992 by Danny Carlton. Permission is hereby granted to use it freely as long as it's referred to as “Carlton Hand Sign™”.