FREE Quote   Call Toll FREE: 1-800-322-0284
Accredited Language Services
Free Translation Tool Website Translation Language Identifier LanguagesCountries Useful Links

Sign Language - American

Our professional linguists include native Sign Language - American speakers who are experienced in the nuances of the language and the requirements of effective translation and interpreting.

Sign Language - American Language


American Sign Language is the official sign language system used by the Deaf community and other hard of hearing individuals in the United States and Canada. Sign language is generally defined as a means of communication through bodily movements, most commonly with the arms and hands.

Today American Sign Language (ASL) is used by more than 500,000 people located in the US and Canada, and it is the fourth-most common language of the United States.

General sign language is most likely even older than basic verbal speech. Before people could speak, they were able to communicate via means of facial expressions and bodily movements like shrugged shoulders and pointing fingers – universal symbols that can still be understood around the world today.

Why Use Sign Language?

Sign language is a form of communication used when it is impossible or undesirable for individuals to communicate verbally.

Today sign language is commonly used as a means of communication used by the Deaf community and other hard of hearing individuals. Sign language may be used for any number of other reasons. For example, it may be used if two individuals are trying to communicate silently or if two people from different linguistic backgrounds want to communicate with one another.

Two of the Earliest Uses of Sign Language

One interesting example of sign language being used in an unexpected way is the case of Meher Baba, an Indian religious figure who took a vow of silence. Although he abstained from speech in the last years of his life, Baba “dictated” a great amount of written material through the use of sign language. He first began by pointing to letters but moved on to develop a system of signed gestures.

Another interesting example of unique uses of sign language is its utility as a communicative tool between Japanese and Chinese speakers.

The Japanese and Chinese writing systems share many characters; however, pronunciation differences between the two languages make them unintelligible in the spoken form. If a Japanese speaker were to say a character aloud, a Chinese speaker would not understand him even though their languages might share the same character. However, it is possible for Chinese and Japanese speakers to communicate by tracing the forms of mutually comprehensible characters on their palms – a rudimentary form of sign language.

Early Use of Sign Language in North America: The Plains Indians

One of the earliest known sign language systems in North America is credited to the Plains Indians of early-19th century America.

The Plains Indians developed a system of manual symbols that allowed individuals from different tribes to communicate with each other. Two fingers straddling the other index finger would represent a person on horseback, for example, while miming the action of brushing long hair would represent a woman.

This system became so familiar to the Plains Indians that they were able to develop it further, combining signs to form complex narratives, convey important messages, and converse with others.

Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language

The book “Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language,” by Nora Ellen Groce, traces the history of sign language in Martha’s Vineyard, an area where hereditary Deafness came to be a common issue by the early 17th century.

Due to the large number of hard of hearing individuals in the area, Martha’s Vineyard developed its own unique sign language known as Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL). MVSL most likely played a role in the development of American Sign Language in the early 19th century.

 

European Development of Sign Language for Use by Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Most early societies considered the Deaf community to be mentally challenged and made no effort to educate them. Although there are a few known cases of people caring for disabled individuals in ancient Greece and Rome, most early societies made no attempt to develop educational systems for the Deaf community or the hard of hearing.

Starting from the Renaissance period, there are records of scattered attempts to teach hard of hearing and Deaf individuals to communicate throughout Europe. Pedro Ponce de Leon, for example, taught Deaf pupils to read, write and speak in mid-1500s Spain, while the Englishman John Bulwer published a book about his experiences teaching the hard of hearing. Similar work was undertaken by other individuals in Spain, France, England and Germany.

Looking to France: Origins of an Official American Sign Language

American Sign Language finds its origins in the French Sign Language (FSL) developed by Abbe Charles-Michel de L’Epee in mid-18th century France. It was L’Epee’s work that served as a true landmark moment in the development of sign language systems.

What set L’Epee’s system apart was that, rather than teaching the hard of hearing to speak orally, his system allowed the individual to spell out single words using a manual alphabet and to express general concepts using simple physical signs.

L’Epee’s contribution to American Sign Language is still acknowledged today. For example, in front of the St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo, New York, visitors are greeted by a large statue of L’Epee that was sculpted by an alumnus of the school.

Creating an Official American Sign Language

In 1816 Thomas Gallaudet, the founder of the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut, brought French Sign Language to the United States.

It is likely that the children who attended the American School for the Deaf in these early years brought unique signing systems with them from all over the country, and that modern American Sign Language was a product of the combination of a variety of these systems with the French Sign Language system introduced by Gallaudet.

Sign Language Around the World

Today almost every language in the world has its own system of sign language. The first standard Nicaraguan sign language, for example, was developed after Nicaragua opened its first school for the Deaf in the 1990s. Many sign language systems have followed a path of development similar to that of American Sign Language.

Sign Language - American Translation and Interpreting

ALS provides services in Sign Language - American translation and interpretation in all media. To obtain a free quote for an upcoming Sign Language - American project, please click here.

A

Afar

Afrikaans

Akan

Albanian

Amharic

Arabic

Aramaic

Armenian

Ashanti

Aymará

Azerbaijani

B

Bafut

Bahasa

Bambara

Basque

Bassa

Belarussian

Bemba

Bengali

Bislama

Blackfoot

Bosnian

Breton

Bulgarian

Burmese

C

Cajun

Cambodian

Cantonese

Catalan

Cebuano

Chamoro

Chichewa

Chinese

Chinook

Creole

Croatian

Crow

Czech

D

Danish

Dari

Dhivehi

Dutch

Dzongkha

E

Edo

English

English (American)

English (Australian)

English (British)

Estonian

Ewe

F

Faroese

Farsi

Fijian

Fijian Hindi

Filipino

Finnish

Flemish

French

French (Canada)

French (France)

Frisian

Fulani

Fuuta Jalon

G

Ga

Gaelic

Galician

Georgian

German

Gikuyu

Greek

Greenlandic

Guaraní

Gujarati

H

Hausa

Hawaiian

Hebrew

Hindi

Hmong

Hungarian

I

Ibo

Icelandic

Ilocano

Ilonggo

Indonesian

Italian

J

Japanese

Jola

K

Kannada

Karen

Kazakh

Khalkha Mongol

Khmer

Kinyarwanda

Kirghiz

Kirundi

Kissi

Kiswahili

Koniagui

Kono

Korean

Kurdish

Kwanyama

Kyrgyz

L

Laotian

Latin

Latvian

Liberian

Lingala

Lithuanian

Luxemburgian

M

Macedonian

Malagasy

Malay

Malayalam

Malinke

Maltese

Mandarin

Mandingo

Mandinka

Maori

Marathi

Marshallese

Mirandese

Moldovan

Mongolian

N

Nauruan

Navajo

Ndebele

Nepali

Niuean

Norwegian

Nzema

O

Oriya

Oromo

Ossetian

Otetela

P

Palauan

Papiamento

Pashtu

Polish

Polynesian

Portuguese

Provencal

Punjabi

Pushtu

Q

Quechua

R

Romanian

Russian

S

Samoan

Sanskrit

Scots

Serbian

Sesotho

Sign Language

Sign Language - American

Sindhi

Sinhala

Sinhalese

Sioux

Slovak

Slovenian

Somali

Soninke

Spanish

Spanish (Latin America)

Spanish (Spain)

Sranan

Swahili

Swati

Swedish

T

Tagalog

Taiwanese

Tajik

Tamil

Telugu

Tetum

Thai

Tibetan

Tigrigna

Tokelauan

Tongan

Turkish

Turkman

Tuvaluan

Twi

Tzotzil

U

Ukrainian

Urdu

Uzbek

V

Valencian

Vietnamese

Vlaams

W

Wallisian

Welsh

Wolof

X

Xhosa

Y

Yanomami

Yiddish

Yoruba

Z

Zarma

Zulu


Get Your FREE Quote



 

Sign Language - American Quick Facts

Alternate Names & Spellings: ASL, Ameslan

Language Family: Anglophone North America

Spoken by Approximately 2,000,000 people

Spoken In: United States