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American Sign Language Facts and Information

  • Date: 2009/01/20 (Rev: 2018/11/28) Disabled World - www.disabled-world.com
  • Synopsis : Introduction to American Sign Language as a means of deaf communication including history of ASL and learning to sign.

Main Document

American Sign Language (ASL) is a language that uses physical means of communication, such as body language and lip patterns, instead of oral sound in order to communicate.

American Sign Language is a complete language. It is very complex and uses motions of the hands to make signs and facial expressions, and posture to communicate. Usually referred to as ASL, the language is a way to use hand movements, gestures, and facial expressions to convey thoughts.

Many people find sign language fascinating. While other languages take years to learn, American Sign Language can be taught in a much shorter time period. It is one of the easiest languages to learn because most of the signs were developed to mimic the actual word or phrase it is representing. Even the alphabet signs look like the letters of the English alphabet.

The exact beginnings of ASL are not clear. Many people believe that ASL came mostly from French Sign Language (FSL). Others claim that the foundation for ASL existed before FSL was introduced in America in 1817.

Even though ASL is used in America, it is a language completely separate from English. It contains all the fundamental features a language needs to function on its own as it has its own rules for grammar, punctuation, and sentence order.

Hand depictions of letters of the alphabet in American Sign Language (ASL).About This Image: Hand depictions of letters of the alphabet in American Sign Language (ASL).The person simultaneously uses their hands to show shapes, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or the body, and also facial expressions to convey the message or express thoughts. American sign languages as in other sign languages is used mostly among the deaf, which can include interpreters and friends and families of deaf people as well as people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Just as is the case of spoken language, sign language also differs from one region to another.

Some of the letters are very intuitive, with the symbol for the letter looking exactly like the letter itself. For example, the letter L is made by extending the index finger of the right hand straight up with the thumb pointing to your left. To you, it looks like a backwards L, but to the person you're signing, it looks exactly like the letter L. The same thing with the letter V, which is actually made by giving the "Victory" sign that is used for any battle or war.

One uses dominantly the hand with the palm facing the viewer. The hand should remain in place. It can slightly drift from the mid line when a text is being written in the air. There should be short pauses between words when dealing with long sentences. Excessive jewelery or long nails can distract some people. When spelling acronyms, the letters are moved along a small circle to show that they are read together.

A deaf child who is born to deaf parents who already use ASL will begin to acquire ASL as naturally as a hearing child picks up spoken language from hearing parents. The earlier any child is exposed to and begins to acquire sign language, the better that child's communication skills will become.

When you study ASL you learn the elements of the language including:

  • Hand-shape
  • Palm Orientation
  • Place of Articulation
  • Movement
  • Facial Expression

All of these elements go by the acronym HOLME.

When you are learning American Sign Language you will want to learn the alphabet first. There are many places that you can learn the alphabet. There are online resources, books, DVD's, and other resources that will help you learn have to sign the alphabet. The next stage is actually learning the sign for the word or the phrase.

Learning American Sign Language is a very useful thing to do. It can help you personally and professionally as well as giving you a sense of accomplishment. The easiest way to learn ASL is to take the Learn American Sign Language program.

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