Is American Sign Language Really a Language?
American Sign Language (ASL) was developed in the 1800s, and a significant Deaf community in the U.S. has used it ever since. ASL isn’t related to English, although it borrows from English — as many spoken languages do. ASL has a word order that’s different from English, and it has its own idioms, jokes, and poetry — all unrelated to English. People who support ASL believe that anything can be taught in ASL because it’s a language guided by properties.
Sign language is visually based. An object, such as a person, animal, or thing, needs to be understood by two parties before any information can be signed concerning the subject. Some people believe that this is the natural process for language. Many languages are based on this idea — it’s the noun-verb rule. You need to name an object before you can discuss it.
Although the Deaf population in America has had much progress through laws promoting civil equality and educational advancement of Deaf people, not all states in America recognize ASL as an actual language.
The dispute over whether ASL is an actual language has been ongoing. Those who think that it should be considered a language often cite the following reasons:
It syntactically contains properties like other languages, such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
It maintains grammar rules that must be followed.
Presently, approximately 20 states support this argument and recognize ASL as a foreign language. In addition, numerous colleges and universities offer credits for ASL as a foreign language.
On the other hand, many people don’t buy the argument that ASL is a real language. Their argument goes like this:
All countries, including the United States, use their own indigenous sign language. Therefore, if you were from Spain and traveled to Peru, your Spanish Sign Language wouldn’t be compatible with Peruvian Sign Language, even though the hearing communities from both countries could speak Spanish and understand each other.
At best, some countries, such as the United States, have had a profound impact educationally on other countries. Many foreign Deaf people come to the United States for schooling, and they take home many ASL signs.
Standardizing a Sign language internationally has not happened with any one national Sign language. However, there is a Sign language system called International Sign Language (ISL); it was previously called Gesturo. It uses various signs from several national Sign languages and was first used in the 1970s at the World Federation of the Deaf in Finland. To get more information about ISL, contact Gallaudet University.