Posted on April 15, 2020
Today's national day is about American Sign Language, which is the most-used sign language in North America and to some extent the world. Just as English is a very common second language around the world, serving as a lingua franca (common language) for people from, say, Canada, China, Hungary, South Africa, and Egypt - ASL serves as a lingua franca for deaf people, because people whose first language is, say, French Sign Language (LSF), Libras (the sign language used in Brazil), Japanese Sign Language, and so forth often learn ASL as their second language.
ASL probably began in the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. It was created by combining features of French Sign Language, various village sign languages (which developed in areas where there were a lot of people born deaf - because some kinds of deafness can be passed down from generation to generation), and home sign systems created by families with one or more deaf members.
It's so much better for deaf people to learn a sign language that can extend outside of their own family or village! It opens up much wider avenues of socializing and education and job opportunities.
In addition to being a first language for deaf people throughout the U.S. and English-speaking Canada, ASL is the first language of deaf people in many other nations as varied as Hong Kong, Bolivia, Cambodia, Gabon, the Philippines, Chad, Jamaica, and more. Plus, ASL-based sign languages are used in many other nations in West Africa and parts of Southeast Asia.
ASL, like other sign languages, has an alphabet for fingerspelling names and new vocabulary, signs for individual words and some phrases, and grammar (a set of rules for the correct signing - rules that talk about word order, identifying the topic of a sentence, verb tenses, and so forth).
Here are some resources for learning ASL.
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