American Sign Language History
Sign Language Software  
Download Sign Language Software










American Sign Language:

American Sign Language
(ASL) is the primary Sign Language used in the United States today. Several other countries in conjunction with their indigenous Sign Languages depends on ASL. ASL is also strongly represented in parts of Canada and Mexico. The United States of America and United Kingdom share the same written English as opposed to their Sign Language counterparts which differ significantly.

Estimates believe that there are between 500,000 and 2,000,000 people that use Sign Language as their home tongue. These numbers do deviate from different sources but it is surprisingly popular as mentioned in Trudy Suggs book: American Sign Language is the 3rd most-used language in the United States, trailing spoken English and Spanish.

American Sign Language has a deep history. Standardized Sign Language dates back from the early seventeen hundreds which also forms part of ASL's origins. The history is not as well documented as one should like it to be but there can be no doubt about it's existence in the early days. ASL is a complete and refined language which contains it's own grammar, syntax and culture. As is the case with all other Sign Languages, ASL's grammar do differ completely from written English.

The birth of modern American Sign Language can be described as the sum of certain historical events. To mention a few only:

  • Deaf Institution's attempts to establish a communication medium for the Deaf Communities.
  • North-America's tribes which implemented a communication method by using signs in order to understand each other across different language borders. Their impact on American Sign Language is unknown.
  • Situation on an island five miles from the south-eastern shore of Massachusetts where the rate of genetic deafness were abnormally high, believed to be the result of the founder-effect. It's believed that the Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) did not play a significant role on American Sign Language but nevertheless.
  • Efforts by a Father to assist a local minister's deaf daughter with education.
  • The Deaf Community's desire for an own language.
  • The French Sign Language are also a big role player in the development of American Sign Language.

In Italy and French Standardized Sign Language existed since the 1700's and 1800's respectively. SSL (Standardized Sign Language) was largely used to teach the Deaf People.

In Paris, Abbé de l'Épée, developed the Old French Sign Language (OFSL) in his Deaf School. The Natural Sign Language of the scholars where used as a fundament with some amendments to highlight the grammatical views of the locally spoken language.

In the 18th century on Martha's Vineyard island the birth rate of Deaf People were abnormally high. Ranging from 1 in every 155 to 1 in every 25 where the normal birth rate of Deaf people should be 1 in every 5000+. The high birth rate of Deaf people can be explained by the "founder-effect". The majority of the island's population were familiar with Martha's Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) as many households had a Deaf family member.

Congregationalist church member, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, is acknowledged for promoting North-America's signing methods. Gallaudet's vision to become a preacher faded when he met a neighbor's deaf daughter, Alice Cogswell. Thomas spend much time teaching her signs by drawing them with a stick in the dirt. Alice's father, Dr. Mason Cogswell, asked Hopkins to research study methods for deaf children in Europe. Hobkins studied Sign Language at the "Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets" located in Paris under the influences of Massieu and Clerc. Hobkins successfully swayed Clerc to move to the United States where after they opened the "American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb" in 1817. An institution where deaf Americans can learn American Sign Language. Alice Cogwell was one of the first seven students. Today this school is better known as the "American School for Deaf". It was at this school (or institution) where American Sign Language (ASL) was born and also where all the different Natural Sign Languages could possible had an influence on ASL.

Considering that Clerc instructed using OFSL (Old French Sign Language) one must accept the strong similarities between French Sign Language and American Sign Language today. ASL and OFSL are 60% alike as opposed to ASL and British Sign Language (BSL) which are totally different.

American Sign Language quickly expanded to the rest of the States as former students found their own schools and training institutions back home. This allowed for a near to standardized Sign Language but as with any other language it do have different variations in different regions.

Near the end of the 1800's a battle between two groups arose Those who supported oralism and those who supported manualism. The oralist had the better part of the battle and Signing was strangled socially and didactically. In 1955 American Sign Language caught the interest of Prof. William Stokoe, from Gallaudet University. Prof. Stokoe was so interested in ASL that he undertake to conduct an in-depth study of ASL and familiarizes himself with the culture. Through propaganda and articles related to linguistics Prof. Stokoe managed to win some ground for ASL. American Sign Language was acknowledged as an independent language just like any other language.

American Sign Language (or Sign Language in general) still grows and changes as any other written language. New signs are perpetually added.

Now that you have learn more about American Sign Language download a copy of our SignGenius products.