You can learn Sign Language (ASL) at "American Sign Language University" which is an online sign language curriculum resource for students, instructors, interpreters, and parents of deaf children. ASL U is located at Lifeprint.com. It is much more than just an online sign language dictionary. You can find lesson plans and teaching tips. For a fingerspelling chart, visit: Lifeprint's sign language alphabet area where you can find some excellent signing-related graphics.
Defining ASL: A popular definition is: "American Sign Language is a visual-gestural language used by 500,000 members of the North American Deaf community." According to dictionary.com we have: American Sign Language n. Abbr. ASL. The primary sign language used by Deaf and hearing-impaired people in the United States and Canada, devised in part by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet on the basis of sign language in France. Also called Ameslan.
If you look at Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (www.m-w.com) we get: Main Entry: American Sign Language: Function: noun. Date: 1960: a sign language for the deaf in which meaning is conveyed by a system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the upper body. Notice the date of that entry from Merriam-Webster? 1960! Signing hasn't been "recognized" as a language for very long has it? Oh sure, ASL has been developing and in use since the early 1800's but it wasn't until 1960 that "experts" started recognizing it as a full-blown autonomous language.
The main topics for this site are: sign language classes, history of
American Sign Language, ASL phrases, American Sign Language letters
(fingerspelling), American sign language for babies (baby signing), and a
sign language chart. ASLU is an online curriculum resource for ASL students,
instructors, interpreters, and parents of deaf children. I'm a Deaf (Hard of Hearing) Associate Professor of Deaf Studies at
a large state university in California who prefers to communicate in ASL (American sign
Language). I put together this site to provide a place to discuss American Sign
Language (ASL), interpreters, deafness, and signing. Note: Interpreting is a
broad field that involves more than just "signing and body language." I also
take a look at how ASL qualifies as a foreign language.
When I'm around "Hearing people" I tend to use a hearing aid. If I'm in a meeting I will either use an interpreter or, depending on how close I am to the speaker and how quiet the room is I'll lip-read and use my hearing-aid. My wife and I have had four babies and we taught them all to sign ASL (not just baby signs).
I also write a bit about Deaf education and baby sign / baby talk using sign language. "Baby signing" (for children of Hearing parents) is sort of new to Deaf culture. Deaf children have, of course, used sign language but it is (was) new for Hearing children. One of your our kids is "Deaf/hard of hearing" and attended the Utah School for the Deaf pre-school program.
Remember, ASL is so much more than just "Deaf
communication" -- it is truly becoming a world language. In this website I also
talk about Deaf services agencies, some of which provide "Interpreters for
I don't discuss BSL much. (British Sign Language) The fingerspelling is different (two-handed manual alphabet) and not used by the American Deaf Community.
It seems so many people these days want to learn sign. However, I notice many bloggers (and my students in their research papers) don't even know how to spell it. This is a personal pet peeve of mine. All of the following are WRONG: sign langage, american signs language, american sign languages, american sign langage, signs languages, etc. And don't get me started on what they call fingerspelling (e.g. lettering alphabets). Plus there are the weird old names for ASL that never caught on, like "Amslan." One time I saw someone calling it auslan but I reckon that would be Australian Sign Language (ha).
I've also set up an area of this site that deals with ASL Linguistics (linguistic signs/linguistic sign). Use the links to jump around and check out the site.
We should say "at least" 500,000 people use ASL. That is an OLD statistic from the 1980's. My estimate is more along the lines of: 2 million people are using ASL on a daily basis and at least 500,000 of those people are using it as their primary means of communication. Millions more people know "some" sign language and use it "once in a while." For example -- a grandmother of a deaf child. She may have taken a six-week community education course and now she knows just enough to offer her grandson candy and cookies.
"ASL is a visual gestural language." That means it is a language that is expressed through the hands and face and is perceived through the eyes. It isn't just waving your hands in the air. If you furrow your eyebrows, tilt your head, glance in a certain direction, twist your body a certain way, puff your cheek, or any number of other "inflections" --you are adding or changing meaning in ASL. A "visual gestural" language carries just as much information as an oral/aural (mouth/ear) language.
Is ASL limited to just the United States and Canada? No. ASL is also used in varying degrees in the Philippines, Ghana, Nigeria, Chad, Burkina Faso, Gabon, Zaire, Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, Benin, Togo, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong. Is ASL a universal language? No. Those countries I just mentioned have their own signed languages. ASL is the dominant signed language in North America, plus it is used to some extent in quite a few other countries, but it is certainly not understood by Deaf people everywhere.
Did we get ASL from Native American sign language? Answer: No.