American Sign Language and Its Importance

american sign language

Humans can communicate in a number of different ways and languages. In fact, roughly 6,500 languages are spoken in the world today. But, what about those that aren’t “spoken”? In today’s blog, we’re talking about the development and importance of American Sign Language. Plus, its distinctions and variations. 

The Development of American Sign Language

Before we talk about how it came to be, first: what is American Sign Language? Also known as ASL, it serves as a predominant means of communication for US and English Canadian Deaf communities. Expressed by facial expressions as well as movement and motions with the hands, ASL is a complete and organised visual language. 

Its History

Prior to the birth of ASL, sign language existed in various communities in the US. Hearing families with deaf children employed ad hoc home sign. This often reached much higher levels of sophistication than gestures used by hearing people in spoken conversations. What’s more, as early as 1541 documented the Indigenous peoples use of sign language to communicate between tribes.

ASL as we know it presumably originated in the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in Connecticut in 1817. The draw in of students meant the mixing of community and at-home sign languages. Additionally, the teachers at the school knew French Sign Language from their training. This situation of language contact resulted in the emergence of a new: ASL. 

More schools were founded after ASD. With them came the spread of American Sign Language. This, plus societies such as the National Association of the Deaf and their signing conventions resulted in ASL’s use over a large geographical area. 

Up to the 1950s, oralism was the main method in deaf education. Meaning students acquired oral language comprehension and production. ASL was viewed as something “inferior”. However, aided by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, progressive linguists argued for manualism. And thus, the use of sign language. 

Its Importance

Unfortunately, ASL users have never been counted by the American census. Therefore, it’s hard to give a number of the population. However, it’s estimated that ASL is the third or fourth most-spoken language in the United States. Why not join them? Check out these reasons for picking up American Sign Language:

  1. It’s growing in popularity. Thanks to a passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ASL is now recognised as a credible foreign language. 
  2. A second language is good for your brain health. Those who speak more than their native tongue have better memories. 
  3. Connect with more people. Expand your network by communicating with those you may not have before. This is especially handy if your career is in: teaching, medicine, or service. 

Distinctions and Variations

Just like accents form in regions, so do sign productions. For example, native signers from New York sign more quickly and sharply. Meanwhile, those not on the cost are often slower. 

Additionally, there are variants of the sign for English words such as “birthday”, “pizza”, “Halloween”, “early”, and “soon”. Again, this is due to regional change. 

Black ASL is also a distinct variety — evolving as a result of racially segregated schools. Speakers use more two-handed signs and have a wider signing space. They also borrow a number of idioms from African American English. 

However, despite these variations, most ASL speakers are able to understand each other. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo Clubs. Don't let after-school be an afterthought - join Gooroo's online platform centred around hands-on project-based learning!