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The American Manual Alphabet is a manual alphabet that augments the vocabulary of American Sign Language when spelling individual letters of a word is the preferred or only option, such as with proper names or the titles of works. Letters are signed with the dominant hand, and in most cases with the palm facing the viewer.
The letters and digits are signed as follows. In informal contexts, the handshapes are not made as distinctly as they are in formal contexts.
J and Z involve motion. J is I with a twist of the wrist, so that the little finger traces the curve of the printed form of the letter; Z is a G moved back and forth, so that the index finger traces the zig-zag shape of the letter Z.
In most drawings or illustrations of the American Manual Alphabet, some of the letters are depicted from the side to better illustrate the desired hand shape. For example, the letters G and H are frequently shown from the side to illustrate the position of the fingers. However, they are signed with the hand in an ergonomically neutral position, palm facing to the side and fingers pointing forward.
Several letters have the same hand shape, and are distinguished by orientation. These are "h" and "u", "k" and "p" (thumb on the middle finger), "g" and "q" and, in informal contexts, "d" and "g/q". In rapid signing, "n" is distinguished from "h/u" by orientation. The letters "a" and "s" have the same orientation, and are very similar in form. The thumb is on the side of the fist in the letter "a", and in front for "s".
When fingerspelling, the hand is at shoulder height. It does not bounce with each letter unless a letter appears twice in a row. Letters are signed at a constant speed; a pause functions as a word divider. The first letter may be held for the length of a letter extra as a cue that the signer is about to start fingerspelling.