American Sign Language

Written by Patty Yu
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American Sign Language is a manual language not expressed with sound, but instead by a combination of hand shapes, movements of the arms, body, and hands, and facial expressions. The language is used predominantly by the deaf in the United States and Canada, as well as by the hard of hearing. American Sign Language is considered a natural language by linguists.

In studying the origins of American Sign Language, one will discover that the language is greatly influenced by French Sign Language, as introduced by Laurent Clerc, the first deaf teacher in the first school for the deaf in America. The American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb, which is now called the American School for the Deaf, taught many students from Martha's Vineyard, who had their own sign language. Some believe that American Sign Language formed when Martha's Vineyard Sign Language merged with French Sign Language.

Learning American Sign Language

Although there once was a common theory that signs are self-explanatory, they are now grouped into three categories. There are "transparent" signs that can be guessed correctly by non-signers. "Translucent" signs may make sense to non-signers with an explanation. "Opaque" signs, however, cannot be guessed by non-signers and may seem arbitrary to the meaning.

While the deaf and hard-of-hearing must use sign language to communicate, hearing people may also benefit from learning how to sign as well. Studies show that using sign language with infants in their pre-speech developmental stages can accelerate their cognitive learning and development. Learning American Sign Language allows the hearing to communicate with the deaf on multiple levels. Using modern tools, such as interactive software, can aid in the learning process.


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