American Sign Language
What is ASL?
American Sign Language (ASL) is a complete, complex language that employs signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the primary language of many North Americans who are deaf and is one of several communication options used by people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
How does ASL compare to spoken language?
ASL is a language completely separate and distinct from English. It contains all the fundamental features of language—it has its own rules for pronunciation, word order, and complex grammar. While every language has ways of signaling different functions, such as asking a question rather than making a statement, languages differ in how this is done. For example, English speakers ask a question by raising the pitch of their voice; ASL users ask a question by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and tilting their bodies forward.
Just as with other languages, specific ways of expressing ideas in ASL vary as much as ASL users do. In addition to individual differences in expression, ASL has regional accents and dialects. Just as certain English words are spoken differently in different parts of the country, ASL has regional variations in the rhythm of signing, form, and pronunciation. Ethnicity and age are a few more factors that affect ASL usage and contribute to its variety.
American Deaf culture centers on the use of ASL and identification and unity with other people who are Deaf. A Deaf sociolinguist, Dr. Barbara Kannapel, developed a definition of the American Deaf culture that includes a set of learned behaviors of a group of people who are deaf and who have their own language (ASL), values, rules, and traditions. In 1913, George W. Veditz, president of the National Association of the Deaf, reflected in an old movie the sense of identity ASL gives Deaf individuals when he signed,
“As long as we have deaf people on Earth, we will have signs, and as long as we have our films, we can preserve our beautiful sign language in its original purity. It is our hope that we all will love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to deaf people.”