American Sign Language: History, Origins, and Use
The American Sign Language is a complete and complex language used by the deaf in North America. It is the primary language and one of the few means of communication of the deaf or hard-of-hearing. It uses signs that are made by using the hands, facial expressions and postures of the body.
Origins and History of ASL
Although historians are actively researching into the exact beginnings of the American Sign Language, they still remain unclear, but its early beginnings are discovered to be around 200 years ago. It arose from the intermixing with the French Sign Language or LSF. The reason is that today’s American Sign Language consists of elements of the French Sign Language with the inclusion of other local sign languages. Over the years these complex mixes combined into a complete and mature language. Now, although once very close, the French Sign Language and the American Sign Language are completely distinct and can no longer be understood by users of each of those.
It is also important to note that no two sign languages are the same, and there is no sign language that is universal, just like the spoken languages in the world. Each region of the planet has its own sign language. For instance, the British Sign Language is completely different than the one in the US and users of the former one cannot understand the latter one.
How Many People Use The ASL?
Although there is no exact number, researchers from researchgate came up with a close estimate of 500.000 Americans.
What Are Sign Languages Based On?
All spoken languages have words appropriated by a voice that makes sounds. There are separate sounds for each word and we have learned to distinguish each for and understand it as such. However, people who are deaf cannot use sounds to understand amongst themselves or with other people, so instead, the sign languages are based on vision as a way to communicate.
In fact, although used by an English-speaking nation, the American Sign Language is a language completely distinct from English. However, it does contain all the fundamentals of a language, just like all other languages do. There are certain rules for word order, complex grammar, as well as pronunciation.
One thing that is particularly interesting in how it is transferred from the spoken to the sign language is the way of asking questions. For instance, when we use the spoken language to ask a question, we raise our voice. In sign language this is translated by widening the eyes, raising eyebrows, or tilting the body forward, all different in given situations.
Additionally, just as we have various differences in expression, dialects, and accents by region, the American Sign Language varies as you move within the country. These differences are in the way of the rhythm signing, the form and facial expressions. It’s important to note that the American Sign Language is a living language and changes over time just like the spoken languages do. Ethnicity and age are two of the several factors that contribute greatly to these changes over the years.
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