Cued Speech

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Cued Speech is a modality that makes spoken languages into visual languages. Cued Speech was developed by Dr. R. Orin Cornett at Gallaudet University in 1966.


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 manual signals that could be delivered with movements on the mouth. These signals reintroduce distinguishing 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, adn conversational discourse. Fluent cuers can be produce cued English at a conversational rate. 


Handshapes represent consonant phonemes. Placements and movements represent vowel phonemes. Phonemes that look alike on the mouth assigned different cues. These cues then disambiguate the phonemes. Several phonemes have been assgined to the same cue. That is possible because they look different enough on th mouth to be distinguished by a deaf cuer. In this way, the hand or mouth will always disambiguate each phoneme so that it is visually distinct from all others. 

The grouping not only make for a more efficient system, it requires the deaf cuer to attend to both the hand and the mouth. This provides an avantage 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 Examples


This placement is used when there is no vowel follwoing a placement. For example, if one were to cue, “Shhhh!” The handshape for the consonant /ʃshsh/ would be held at the side placement.


/ɚûrur/, /iēee/ dirty



/ɔôaw/, /ɛěeh/, /uo͞oue/ small red shoe



/ʊo͝ooo/, /æăa/, /ɪĭi/ look at it


/əəə/, /ʌŭuh/ above


/ōoh/, /ɑäah/ gross sock


Vowel Cue Vowel Diphthongs Examples


/ɑɪīie/, /ɑʊowow eyebrow


/ɛěehɪĭi/, /ɔɪoioy/ play toy


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 Examples
/ppp/, /ddd/, /ʒzhzh/ perdidZsa Zsa
/kkk/, /vvv/, /ðt͟htH/, /zzz/ cows visit the zoo
/rrr/, /sss/, /hhh/ rattlesnakes hiss
/ʍhwhw/, /bbb/, /nnn/ whales bite nails
/ttt/, /mmm/, /fff/,  too many fish
/ʃshsh/, /lll/, /www/ sheep love wool
/ggg/, /ʤjj/, /θthth/ gorilla jewel thief
/jyy/, /ŋngng/, /ʧchch/ young children

Adaptations to Other Languages

Each language has its own inventory of phonemes. The Cued Speech system can be adapted to convert spoken languages (other than American English) into visual languages 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). 


  • /dɚˈti/
  • /durˈtee/
  • /dûrˈtē/
  • 1m5m


  • /pɚˈ/
  • /purˈ/
  • /pûrˈ/
  • 1m


  • /dɪˈd/
  • /diˈd/
  • /dĭˈd/
  • 1t1s

Zsa Zsa

  • /ʒɑˈʒɑˌ/
  • /zhahˈzhahˌ/
  • /zhäˈzhäˌ/
  • 1sf1sf