American Sign Language (ASL) is a unique and beautiful language that is used by the Deaf community in the US and Canada. It is a visual language that uses hand gestures, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. While ASL is recognized as an official language in the US, many people are unaware of its intricacies and complexities. In this article, we will explore the different aspects of ASL and how much you really know about this fascinating language.
What Is ASL?
ASL is a complete language that has its own grammar, syntax, and idioms. It is a visual language that is based on movements and uses gestures, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. ASL is not simply a system of hand gestures, nor is it just a substitute for spoken English. It is a language that is used by the Deaf community to communicate with each other and with hearing people who know ASL.
The Origins of ASL
The origins of ASL can be traced back to the early 19th century when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a hearing man, met a Deaf girl named Alice Cogswell. Gallaudet became interested in teaching Deaf children and traveled to Europe to learn more about Deaf education. He met a Deaf Frenchman named Laurent Clerc who agreed to come to America and help Gallaudet start the first school for the Deaf in the US. Clerc brought French Sign Language with him, which was the basis for the development of ASL.
The Different Features of ASL
ASL has a large number of hand signs that are used to convey meaning. These signs are held in particular shapes and at specific locations on the body. For example, the hand sign for the letter “A” is made by making a fist with the thumb on top and the hand held at chest height. The sign for the letter “B” is made by holding the hand flat with the thumb pointing upwards and the hand held at chest height.
Facial expressions are an important part of ASL, since they can convey emotions and convey different meanings. For example, the use of raised eyebrows can indicate a question, while the use of a furrowed brow can indicate confusion or disagreement.
Body language is an important aspect of ASL, since it can convey different meanings and emotions. Body language can be used to indicate direction, the state of mind, or the context of the conversation. For example, leaning forward can indicate interest, while leaning back can indicate disinterest or boredom.
Non-manual markers are changes in facial expression, body posture, or tone of voice that convey meaning in ASL. These markers can be used to indicate sarcasm, emphasis, or a change in topic. For example, the use of a sly smile can indicate that a statement is meant to be taken ironically, while a change in tone of voice can indicate that the speaker is making a point.
The Importance of Learning ASL
Learning ASL is important for hearing people who want to communicate with the Deaf community. By learning ASL, hearing people can break down barriers and communicate effectively with Deaf people. Additionally, learning ASL can help improve communication skills and increase empathy and understanding towards people who are different from ourselves.
The Benefits of Learning ASL
- Improved communication skills
- Increase in empathy and understanding
- Break down barriers between hearing and Deaf communities
- Enhances cognitive abilities
- Increases job opportunities in fields related to Deafness or sign language interpreting
How to Learn ASL
There are many ways to learn ASL, including taking classes, finding a Deaf community center, or using online resources. It is important to practice regularly and to immerse oneself in the language to truly master ASL.
Myths and Misconceptions About ASL
ASL is a Universal Language
ASL is not a universal language and varies depending on where it is used. Different countries have their own signed languages, and even within the US, different regions have their own dialects of ASL. Additionally, ASL is not a direct translation of English and has its own grammar and syntax.
ASL is Simplified English
ASL is not simply a system of hand gestures used to represent English words. It is a complete language in its own right with its own grammar, idioms, and vocabulary.
Deaf People Can’t Read or Write
Many Deaf people can read and write and may even be bilingual in English and ASL. However, for some Deaf people with limited access to education, literacy skills may be limited.
Testing Your ASL Knowledge: The ASL Quiz
How much ASL do you really know? Take this quick quiz to test your knowledge of ASL.
|What is the origins of ASL?||ASL is based on French Sign Language, which was brought to the US by Laurent Clerc in the early 19th century.|
|What are the different features of ASL?||ASL uses hand signs, facial expressions, body language, and non-manual markers to convey meaning.|
|What are the benefits of learning ASL?||Learning ASL can improve communication skills, increase empathy and understanding, break down barriers between hearing and Deaf communities, enhance cognitive abilities, and increase job opportunities in fields related to Deafness or sign language interpreting.|
|Is ASL a universal language?||No, ASL is not a universal language and varies depending on where it is used.|
|Is ASL just a direct translation of English?||No, ASL is a complete language in its own right with its own grammar, idioms, and vocabulary.|
ASL is a unique and beautiful language that is used by the Deaf community to communicate with each other and with hearing people who know ASL. While many people are unaware of the intricacies and complexities of ASL, learning ASL can be a valuable skill that can help break down barriers and increase empathy and understanding. By understanding the different features of ASL, the myths and misconceptions about ASL, and testing one’s ASL knowledge, we can increase our understanding of this fascinating language.
American Sign Language. (n.d.). In-Words Web Services. Retrieved from https://www.inwords.ca/asl.php
McNeill, D., & Duncan, S. (2000). Growth points in signing research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Sign Language in America. (n.d.). National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/sign-language
- Q: Can anyone learn ASL?
- A: Yes, anyone can learn ASL regardless of age or hearing ability.
- Q: How long does it take to become fluent in ASL?
- A: Becoming fluent in any language takes time and practice, but with regular study and immersion in the language, one can become fluent in ASL.
- Q: Can sign language interpreters work in different fields?
- A: Yes, sign language interpreters can work in many different fields, including education, healthcare, government, and entertainment.
- Q: What is the difference between ASL and English?
- A: ASL has its own grammar and syntax that is different from English. Additionally, ASL uses gestures, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning, while English relies on spoken or written words.