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A Beginner's Guide to American Sign Language

Written by Jacob C. Herman

The American Sign Language, or ASL, is the most commonly used sign language among deaf people in the United States, as well as certain regions of Canada and Mexico. It is also used by people in a number of South American, Asian, and African countries. Presently, it is estimated that ASL is the main language for between half a million to two million people in the US, and these consist of deaf people as well as instructors of the deaf.

The earliest use of sign language in America can be traced back to a few centuries ago, when the Great Plain Indians developed their own system of sign language. This language was used to facilitate communication among different tribes, and it was not specifically designed for the deaf. It was only in the 19th century that a complete sign language system was introduced in the US. A minister by the name of Thomas Gallaudet decided that he wanted to help the deaf daughter of his neighbor learn sign language. He made a trip to Europe in the year 1815, and he attended a deaf people's school in Paris to study sign language. He returned after a few months, and he brought along a sign language instructor called Laurent Clerc. Later on, he established a school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, and Clerc became the first instructor in the school. After this, many schools for deaf people were set up throughout the US, and by 1863, there were 22 schools in the country.

The present ASL is based on the same sign language system that Gallaudet introduced in the US, and it is considered one of the most expressive and comprehensive sign languages in the world. There are many answering services and voicemail services to aid the deaf.

Deaf and Hearing Impaired Resources

American Sign Language Information

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Learning American Sign Language

Additional Resources

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