Assignment of Cues Compared Across Languages

**This article uses symbols from the International Phonetic Alphabet to represent phonemes of various languages. It was deliberately written without using the adaptive notation you selected in your profile because additional symbols were needed that do not apply to English. For consistency, one notation system that could represent all phonemes had to be used throughout.

If you are not familiar with IPA symbols, Wikipedia provides a comprehensive overview that includes examples by various English dialects (country-based).

When adapting Cued Speech to other languages, it can be helpful to review already established versions. These adaptations reveal distributions of phonemes to cues (handshapes and placements). These distributions have been shown to be sufficiently visually contrastive. In other words, the phonemes that are grouped together on one cue look different enough on the mouth to be clear and unambiguous. Additionally, it can be useful to allow overlap among the different versions of Cued Speech. For example, the phoneme /mmm/ is represented by handshape 5 in many adaptations. This overlap facilitates a cuer’s ability to acquire other CS systems and helps them to receive, with some familiarity, the modality even while they are acquiring a new language. 

The following chart shows a comparison of phoneme assignments to cues by language. In some cases, you’ll see that a phoneme is not represented by the same cue in each language. This occurs for several reasons:

  • The other phonemes in that language required a different distribution to make each visually distinct;
  • The relatively fewer number of phonemes allowed for a distribution of fewer cues, facilitating the ease in which one could learn to cue. So the cues were placed on as few handshapes and placements as possible; or
  • The categorization of a phoneme or phonemes was different to native users of that language.

For example, the consonant phonemes that occur near the end of the word lasagna are typically perceived as two phonemes by an American cuer (i.e., /n/ /j/). However, a French cuer would perceive only a single phoneme (i.e., /ɲ/). Thus, an American cuer would use two handshapes (4 and 8) to represent the two phonemes, but a French cuer would use one handshape (6) to represent the single phoneme.

Monophthong Vowels

Abbreviations for cues are taken from the first letter of the name of that placement: (m) mouth, (c) chin, (t) throat, (sf) side-forward, (sd) side-down. The cheekbone placement found in some systems is indicated by (p) pommette, the French word for cheekbone. 

  ɑ æ ɑ̃ ə e ɚ ɝ ɛ ɛ̃ i ɪ ɨ ɔ o œ œ̃ ø ɒ ɔ̃ ʌ u ʊ ʊ̈ ʉ y
Amharic t - - - p - - c - t t - - m - - - - - - c - - - -
English (U.S.)  sf t - sd -1 m m c - m t   c -1 -     - - sd c t - -  
English (U.K.) sf t - sd - - - c   m     c -2           m c t      
French s - m s t - - c p m - - c s s t p - m - c - - - t
Italian t - - - c - - - - t - - - c - - - - - - t - - - -
Spanish                   t                              
Japanese s       t         s     -               t        
Kiluba s - - - m - - - - t - - - m - - - - - - t - - - -

1 The monopthong vowels /e/ and /o/ occur in some dialects of American English, but these are nearly always cued as diphthongs except in the case of words like hang and thanks, where the convention is to cue the vowel as /æ/.

2 The monophthong vowel /o/ is not cued in England, but (unlike in the U.S.) the diphthong /oʊ/ was included as a side-throat diphthong in this adaptation.



Consonants in this article have been broken up by manner of articulation when spoken. In general, this classification is not relevant to the assignment of phonemes to cues, except in terms of the way the consonants appear to deaf individuals. These categories were used simply to make the presentation of information in this article manageable. 


  /p/ /t/ /k/ /b/ /d/ /g/ /ʔ/
English (US) -
English (UK) -
Finnish -
French -
Italian -
Portuguese (Brazil) -
Portuguese (Portugal) -
Russian -

The glottal stop occurs in American English (e.g., Batman), but not a distinct phoneme. 


  m n ɲ ŋ
Amharic -
English (US) -
English (UK) -
Finnish -
Italian -
Portuguese (Brazil)
Portuguese (Portugal)
Russian - -


  dz kx pf ts
Amharic - - -
English (US) - - - -
English (UK) - - - -
Finnish - - - - -
French - - - - - -
German - - -
Italian 1 - -
Japanese     - -  
Kiluba - -      
Portuguese (Brazil) - - - -
Portuguese (Portugal) - - - - - -
Russian - - -

1 The affricate /dz/ is usually not distinguished in Italian and would be cued simply as /ts/. However, if it distinguished in a dialect, it is placed at handshape 1.