American Sign Language (ASL), as the name indicates, is a sign-based language. It’s a complex, complete language that incorporates signs that are made using your hands, body postures, and facial expressions. For most deaf North Americans, ASL is the language they learned first. In fact, ASL is the fourth most popular language in America.
Kindly note, there is no “global” sign language. For instance, British Sign Language is quite different from ASL. Different regions or countries use different sign languages.
ASL’s exact origin isn’t clear. There’s a common belief that ASL stemmed from FSL or French Sign Language. However, there are others who state ASL’s foundations existed even before FSL became a thing, in 1817. It’s difficult to prove which language did more for modern ASL’s formation. Modern FSL and ASL have some common elements, which include a rich vocabulary. But the two vocabularies aren’t mutually comprehensible.
Comparing ASL with Spoken Language
The various sounds produced by words and intonation (voice tones) in spoken language are primarily used for communication. American Sign Language, on the other hand, employs ‘sight’ as its tool so that a deaf person could receive and communicate information. ASL, thus, uses hand movement, position and shape; body movements; facial expressions; gestures; and some other visual cues for forming words. ASL fluency, like any language, needs an extended period of practice and study.
Despite ASL being used widely in America, the language is totally different from English. It comprises all basic features a language would need to work on its own. ASL has its unique set of rules for punctuation, grammar, and sentence order or structure. ASL has been evolving over the years with usage, and it also accommodates regional jargon.
Different languages express their features differently; ASL isn’t an exception. While a particular voice tone is usually used in the English language to signal a question, ASL users widen their eyes and raise their eyebrows to do the same. At times, ASL users could ask questions by leaning their bodies forward and signaling with their eyebrows and eyes at the same time.
Just like other languages, specific ways to express ideas in ASL differ significantly. ASL users could select from synonyms for expressing common words. Also, ASL changes regionally, just like some English words get spoken differently in various parts of America. Age, gender, and ethnicity are some other factors that influence ASL usage and variety.