Cued Speech

Cued Speech is a manual modality of communication that makes spoken languages into visual languages. Cued Speech was developed by Dr. R. Orin Cornett at Gallaudet University in 1966. It is primarily used among people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. 


Dr. Cornett recognized that many of the distinguishing features of spoken sounds were not available to deaf children and that lipreading was not reliable. He devised handshapes that could be delivered along with movements on the mouth. These signals reintroduce distinctive features so that all the building blocks of English are unambiguous in a visual channel. This means that deaf children have visual access to the phoneme stream of English. Cues are assembled into syllables, words, sentences, and conversational discourse. Fluent cuers can produce cued English at a conversational rate. 


Handshapes represent consonant phonemes. Placements and movements represent vowel phonemes. Phonemes that look alike on the mouth were assigned different cues. These cues then disambiguate the phonemes. Several phonemes are assigned to the same cue. That is possible because they look different enough on the mouth. In this way, the combination of the hand and mouth make each phoneme clear to the receiver.

The grouping not only makes for a more efficient system; it requires the deaf cuer to attend to both the hand and the mouth. This provides an advantage in that many deaf cuers develop excellent speechreading skills.

Cues for American English


Vowels in American English are represented by placements on the face or movements made from the side placement. 

Vowel Placement Cue Vowel Phonemes Keywords/ mnemonics Video examples 


No following vowel (e.g., "Shhhh!").

The handshape for the consonant /ʃshshʃshshʃshsh/ is placed at the side placement.

-- wishit, red


/ɚûrurɚûrurɚûrur/, /iēeeiēeeiēee/ dirty hurry



/ɔôawɔôawɔôaw/, /ɛěehɛěehɛěeh/, /uo͞oueuo͞oueuo͞oue/ small red shoe all, bed, who, new



/ʊo͝oooʊo͝oooʊo͝ooo/, /æăaæăaæăa/, /ɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi/ look at it hood, fat, liptrip


/əəəəəəəəə/, /ʌŭuhʌŭuhʌŭuh/ above above, undone, run


/ōohōohōoh/, /ɑäahɑäahɑäah/ gross sock home, top


Vowel Cue Vowel Diphthongs Key words/ mnemonics Video Examples


/ɑɪīieɑɪīieɑɪīie/, /ɑʊowowɑʊowowɑʊowow eyebrow hinow, eyebrow, howhouse


/ɛěehɛěehɛěehɪĭiɪĭiɪĭi/, /ɔɪoioyɔɪoioyɔɪoioy/ play toy hey, boy


Consonant phonemes are represented by the shape of the hand. One handshape can represent several phonemes as along as those phonemes look different on the mouth. In this way, the distinguishing features (of the hand in combination with the mouth) make every phoneme of English visually clear and unambiguous. 

Handshape Cue Consonant Phonemes Keywords/ mnemonics VideoExamples
/ppppppppp/, /ddddddddd/, /ʒzhzhʒzhzhʒzhzh/ pirates, dig, treasure perdidZsa Zsa
/kkkkkkkkk/, /vvvvvvvvv/, /ðt͟htHðt͟htHðt͟htH/, /zzzzzzzzz/ cows visit the zoo key, V, the, zoo
/rrrrrrrrr/, /sssssssss/, /hhhhhhhhh/ rattlesnakes hiss he, saw, row, hairy
/ʍhwhwʍhwhwʍhwhw/, /bbbbbbbbb/, /nnnnnnnnn/ whales bite nails boo, know, banana, when
/ttttttttt/, /mmmmmmmmm/, /fffffffff/,  too many fish tea, Mimi, fat, if, toy, tomb
/ʃshshʃshshʃshsh/, /lllllllll/, /wwwwwwwww/ sheep love wool shoe, we, will, shall, wish
/ggggggggg/, /ʤjjʤjjʤjj/, /θththθththθthth/ gorilla jewel thief go, jaw, thaw, Earth
/jyyjyyjyy/, /ŋngngŋngngŋngng/, /ʧchchʧchchʧchch/ young children you, young, chew, each, church

Adaptations to Other Languages

Each language has its own inventory of phonemes. The Cued Speech system can be adapted to convert other spoken languages into visual languages that are accessible to deaf individuals. In fact, Cued Speech has been adapted to nearly 60 languages and dialects

Related Terms

  • cued language - a language that is cued
  • cued English/cued Spanish/cued Hebrew - a specific language that is cued
  • spoken language - language that is spoken (e.g., uses speech)
  • signed language - language that is signed
  • written language - language represented by orthographic symbols (i.e., written letters)

External Links

Chart for American English - This downloadable, printable chart is produced by the National Cued Speech Association. It uses a phonemic notation system (e.g., liek THis). 

National Cued Speech Association - the national organization for the United States that provides instruction, professional certification, information resources, and advocacy.

Cued Speech Association UK - The national Cued Speech charity in England which provides instruction, information, resources, and advocacy.