Counting on Numbers in American Sign Language
Did you know that counting in Sign can be done in 27 different ways? That’s a pretty cool piece of trivia, but for this article, you just concentrate on two of those ways — using cardinal and ordinal numbers. If you’d like to check out some other ways to count, Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute of the Deaf are great resources.
Cardinal (counting) and ordinal (ordering) numbers will get you through everyday situations, such as counting the millions you won on the lottery, giving your address and phone number to the movie star who wants to get to know you better, telling your mom that you won the first Pulitzer prize for hip-hop poetry, and telling Cinderella that it’s midnight.
When you want to specify that there’s more than one item — plural — you sign the item first, followed by the quantity. Unlike English, you don’t have to change the item to a plural by adding “s.” A good way to remember this is to keep in mind that you need to show what the item is before you can tell someone how many. For example:
English: two books
Sign: BOOK TWO
English: four cars
Sign: CAR FOUR
Getting from one to ten with cardinal numbers
Being able to give numerical information in ASL opens many doors. You can give someone your phone number, make an appointment, and warn a potential guest that you have 12, yes 12, cats.
When you’re indicating quantity and counting things, sign the numbers 1 through 5 and 11 through 15 with your palm facing you, and the numbers 6 through 10 and 16 through 19 with your palm facing the person to whom you’re signing.
Just as in English, there are exceptions to every rule, especially the one about which way your palm faces. To tell time in Sign, let your dominant (active) index finger touch your other wrist — where you would wear a watch. Then use your dominant hand to sign the appropriate hour (number) with your palm facing the person you’re signing to; the same goes for addresses and phone numbers. For quantity, though, the numbers 1 through 5 have your palm facing you; 6 through 10 have your palm facing the addressee.
Here are the numbers 1 through 19.
To sign decade numbers — 30, 40, 50, and so on — you sign the first number (3, 4, 5) followed by the Sign for the number 0. You sign “hundreds,” such as 600, 700, 800, and so on, by first signing the number (6, 7, 8), then the Sign for “hundred,” as the following examples show:
Ordering ordinal numbers
Ordinal numbers show orderly placement: first cup of coffee, second chapter, and third base, for example. To indicate an ordinal number in ASL, twist your wrist inward while signing the respective number.