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Unformatted text preview: expert-subjectLanguages Nofootnotesdate=February 2008 Infobox Language name=American Sign Language nativename=ASL states=United States, Canada region=Anglophone North America signers=500,000 to 2 million in the USA alone (others unknown) family=emerging primarily from Old French Sign Language, with significant input from Martha's Vineyard Sign Language and various home sign systems iso3=ase map=Image:American Sign Language ASL.svg180pxcenter '''American Sign Language''' ('''ASL'''; less commonly '''Ameslan''') is the dominant sign language of the Deaf community in the United States, in the anglophoneEnglish-speaking parts of Canada, and in parts of Mexico. Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as a spoken and written language, British Sign Language (BSL) is quite different from ASL, and the two sign languages are not mutually intelligible. ASL is also used (sometimes alongside indigenous sign languages) in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Mauritania, Kenya, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. Like other sign languages, its grammar and syntax are distinct from any spoken language in its area of influence. While there has been no reliable survey of the number of people who use ASL as their primary language, estimates range from 500,000 to 2 million in the U.S. alone Factdate=February 2008. ==History of ASL== In the United States, as in most of the world, hearing families with deaf children often employ ad-hoc home sign for simple communications. Today though, ASL classes are offered in many secondary and postsecondary schools. ASL is a language distinct from spoken English—complete with its own syntax and grammar and supporting its own culture. The origin of modern ASL is ultimately tied to the confluence of many events and circumstances, including historical attempts at deaf education; the unique situation present on a small island in Massachusetts; the attempts of a father to enlist a local minister to help educate his deaf daughter; and in no small part the ingenuity and genius of people (in this case deaf people) for language itself. ===Prior sign languages=== Standardized sign languages have been used in Italy since the 17th century and in France since the 18th century for the instruction of the deaf. Old French Sign Language (OFSL) developed and was used in Paris by the Abbé de l'Épée in his school for the deaf. These languages were always modeled after the natural sign languages already in use by the deaf cultures in their area of origin, often with additions to show aspects of the grammar of the local spoken languages. Indigenous Peoples of the American Plains used Plains Indian Sign Language as an interlanguage for communication between people/tribes not sharing a common spoken language; its influence on ASL, if any, is unknown. Off the coast of Massachusetts, on the island of Martha's Vineyard in the 18th century, the population had a much higher rate of deafness than the general population of the continental United States because of the founder effect and the island's isolation. Martha's Vineyard Sign Language was well known by almost all islanders since so many families had deaf members. It afforded almost everyone the opportunity to have frequent contact with a sign language while at an age most conducive to effortlessly learning a language. ===American School for the Deaf=== Congregationalist minister and deaf educator Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is credited with popularizing the signing technique in North America. At the behest of a father who was interested in education for his deaf daughter, Alice Cogswell, Gallaudet was enlisted to investigate methods of teaching the deaf. In the early 1800s he visited the Abbé de l'Épée's school in Paris and convinced one of the teachers, Laurent Clerc, to return with him to America. In 1817 they founded the American Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb (now the American School for the Deaf), in Hartford, Connecticut, to teach sign language to American deaf students. It was at this school that all these influences would intermingle, interact and what would become ASL was born. Many of the school's students were from Martha's Vineyard, and they mixed their "native" sign language with Clerc's OFSL. Other students probably brought their own highly localized sign language or "home sign" systems to the mix. Undoubtedly, spontaneous lexicon developed at the school as well. If there was any influence from sign language of Indigenous peoples of the Americasindigenous people, it may have been here that it was absorbed into the language. ===Growth and standardization=== Interestingly, because of the early influence of the sign language of France upon the school, the vocabularies of ASL and modern French Sign Language are approximately 60% shared, whereas ASL and British Sign Language, for example, are almost completely dissimilar. From its synthesis at this first public school for the deaf in North America, the language went on to grow. Many of the graduates of this school went on to found schools of their own in many other states, thus spreading the methods of Gallaudet and Clerc and serving to expand and standardize the language; as with most languages though, there are regional variations. ===Oralism vs. Manualism=== After being strongly established in the United States there was a bitter fight between those who supported oralism over manualism in the late 1800s. Many notable individuals of high standing contributed to this row, such as Alexander Graham Bell. The oralists won many battles and for a long time the use of sign was suppressed, socially and pedagogically. Many considered sign to not even be a language at all. This situation was changed by William Stokoe, a professor of English hired at Gallaudet University in 1955. He immediately became fascinated by ASL and began serious study of it. Eventually, through publication in linguistics journals of articles containing detailed linguistic analysis of ASL, he was able to convince the scientific mainstream that ASL was indeed a natural language on a par with any other. ===A living language=== The language continues to grow and change like any living language. In particular, ASL constantly adds new signs in an attempt to keep up with constantly changing technology. ==Linguistics== MergetoASL Grammardate=November 2007 ASL is a natural language as proved to the satisfaction of the linguistic community by William Stokoe, and contains phonology, Morphology (linguistics)morphology, semantics, syntax and pragmatics just like spoken languages. It is a ''manual language'' or ''visual language'', meaning that the information is expressed not with combinations of sounds but with combinations of handshapes, palm orientations, movements of the hands, arms and body, location in relation to the body, and facial expressions. While spoken languages are produced by the vocal cords only, and can thus be easily written in linear patterns, ASL uses the hands, head and body, with constantly changing movements and orientations. Like other natural sign languages, it is "three dimensional" in this sense.<ref>cite book last= Tennantfirst= Richardtitle= The American Sign Language Handshape Dictionaryyear= 1998publisher= Clerc Booksisbn= 1563680432</ref><ref>(2005), Downs, Sharon. Make A Difference. University of Arkansas at Little Rock.</ref> ASL is used natively and predominantly by the Deaf and hard-of-hearing of the United States and Canada. ===Iconicity=== Although it often seems as though the signs are meaningful of themselves, in fact they can be as arbitrary as words in spoken language. For example, a child may often make the mistake of using the word "you" to refer to themselves, since others use that word to refer to him or her. Children who acquire the sign YOU (pointing at one's interlocutor) make similar mistakes – they will point at others to mean themselves, indicating that even something as seemingly explicit as pointing is an arbitrary sign in ASL, like words in a spoken language. However, Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi have modified the common theory that signs can be self-explanatory by grouping signs into three categories: *Transparent: Non-signers can usually correctly guess the meaning *Translucent: Meaning makes sense to non-signers once it is explained *Opaque: Meaning cannot be guessed by non-signers Klima and Bellugi used American Sign Language in formulating that classification. The theory that signs are self-explanatory can be conclusively disproved by the fact that non-signers cannot understand fluent, continuous sign language. The majority of signs are opaque. Generally, signs that are "Transparent" are signs of objects or words that became popular after the basics of ASL were established. There are, of course, exceptions to this. ===Grammar=== mainAmerican Sign Language grammar Stokoe started a phonologyphonological analysis and devised a phonemic alphabet rather like the International Phonetic Alphabet. Other linguists have since extended sign language research to the Morphology (linguistics)morphology and syntax of ASL as well as other sign languages. ====Phonology==== Stokoe called the building blocks of signs 'cheremes', from the Greek languageGreek ''cheir-'' 'hand' by analogy with the word phoneme. However, it has since been recognized that they are cognitively equivalent to the phonemes of oral languages, and since Stokoe's time the terms 'phoneme' and 'phonology' have been used for all languages, oral and sign. These linguists have divided ASL signs into several elements or feature (linguistics)features: hand shape, palm orientation, hand movement, hand location, and non-manual features such as facial expression. In early theoretical approaches, movement was treated as simultaneous and/or sequential motions of the hand, on par with other features; while in many more recent approaches, movement is treated as the tempo of the language rather than as a feature ''per se:'' Signs are divided into segment (linguistics)segments of ''movement'' and ''hold,'' each of which consists of a set of the other features of hand shape, orientation, location, plus any non-manual features. =====Orientation, movement, and hold===== In addition to linear movement in the six fundamental palm directions of up, down, in (toward the signer), out (away from the signer), center, facing opposite your dominant hand is (contralateral), and the same side as your dominant hand (ipsilateral), of which diagonal movement is considered to be comprised, phonologically distinctive sign movements include twisting of the wrist, bending of the wrist or fingers, touching a location, crossing hands or fingers, grasping, entering (inserting the hand or fingers between the fingers of the other hand), opening the hand, closing the hand, approaching a location (or the hands to each other), separating from a location (or the hands from each other), brushing a location, wriggling the fingers, exchanging hands, and circling motion of the hand or arm. These may involve 'salient' forearms, so that crossing the hands is realized as crossing extended arms. Palm ''orientations'' are, by the simple fact of being static, necessarily a subset of these. When both hands are actively used for motion (as opposed to the 'weak' hand acting as a passive location for the 'dominant' hand), their motions may be parallel (both to the left or right), mirror images (approaching or separating), or alternating (180° out of phase, like legs pedaling a bicycle). Stokoe ''et al.'' (1965) describe motion as a sequence, each segment of which is composed of one or more of the movement phonemes listed above, such as a fist moving outward while opening and then moving downward while closing again. Orientation is conflated with handshape, the combination being called a ''designator'' or ''dez.'' However, since that time there has been a variety of other approaches. Orientation is now generally considered a feature in its own right, separate from handshape. Liddell (1982) divides signs into phonological ''segments,'' which may be either ''movements'' or ''holds.'' Liddell likens this to the division of spoken language into consonants and vowels, with the Stokoe approach likened to the division of speech into syllables. For Liddell and those who follow him, each movement or hold consists of a set of the other features: Shape, orientation, location, and non-manual. A sign may consist of just a hold (that is, it may be without movement), or of movement plus a hold, or a hold plus movement, or more complex sequences. This simplifies the description of ASL morphology considerably. =====Handshape===== While it can be approximated that there are around 150 handshapes, not all are phonemically distinct in ASL. This is very similar to how there are hundreds of linguistically producible sounds, but only some are considered phonemically distinct in English. Phonemically distinct ASL handshapes (not considering finger spelling and initialization) are Factdate=December 2007: *fist with thumb on side (the shape of the American Sign Language alphabetASL letters A, or 10), *fist with thumb on front (S), *fist with thumb between index and middle finger (T) *flat hand with fingers together (B), *flat hand with fingers apart (4), *spread (and sometimes clawed) hand (5 or E), *cupped hand (C), *thumb touching fingertips (O), *pointing index finger with fist hand (1 or Z), *pointing index finger with lotus hand (D), *hooked index finger (X), *pointing pinky finger (I or J), *index and middle fingers together (U or H), *index and middle fingers apart (V or 2), *'chopsticks' hand (K or P), *thumb and index finger apart (L), *thumb, index, and middle finger extended (3), *thumb touching pinky (6 or W), *thumb touching index finger, other fingers extended (F or 9), *crossed fingers (R), *fist with pinky and thumb extended (Y), *flat hand with middle finger bent (open 8), *fist with pinky and index finger extended (horns), *fist with pinky, index, and thumb extended (ILY), and *fist with bent index and middle finger extended (snake classifier). These handshapes are constrained in their interactions.Factdate=December 2007 For example, the 5 and F handshapes usually make contact with another part of the body through the tip of the thumb, whereas the K and Y/8 handshapes usually only make contact through the tip of the middle finger, and the X handshape with the flexed joint of the index finger. The L hand usually makes contact by means of the thumb, though contact with the index finger would be just as easy: when contact is made with the index finger, the position of the thumb is unimportant, so the same signer may sometimes use a handshape closer to a letter G, and sometimes closer to a letter L; the G shape is considered more basic, and therefore these are considered allophones of the G hand. =====Fingerspelling===== ASL includes both fingerspelling borrowings from English, as well as the incorporation of alphabetic letters from English words into ASL signs to distinguish related meanings of what would otherwise be covered by a single sign in ASL. For example, two hands trace a circle to mean 'a group of people'. Several kinds of groups can be specified by handshape: When made with C hands, the sign means ''''c'''lass'; when made with F hands, it means ''''f'''amily'. Such signs are often referred to as initialized signs because they substitute the first initial an English word as the handshape in order to provide a more specific meaning. When using alphabetic letters in these ways, several otherwise non-phonemic handshapes become distinctive. For example, outside fingerspelling there is but a single fist handshape, with the placement of the thumb irrelevant, but within fingerspelling the position of the thumb on the fist distinguishes the letters A, S, and T. Letter-incorporated signs which rely on such minor distinctions tend not to be stable in the long run, but they may eventually create new distinctions in the language. For example, due to signs such as 'elevator', which generally requires the E handshape, some argue that E has become phonemically distinct from the 5/claw handshape. Fingerspelling has also given way to a class of signs known as "loan signs" or "borrowed signs." Sometimes defined as lexicalized fingerspelling, loan signs are somewhat frequent and represent an English word which has, over time, developed a unique movement and shape. Sometimes loan signs are not even recognized as such because they are so frequently used and their movement has become so specialized. Loan signs are sometimes used for emphasis (like the loan sign #YES substituted for the sign YES), but sometimes represent the only form of the sign (e.g., #NO). Probably the most commonly used example of a loan sign is the sign for NO. In this sign, the first two fingers are fused, held out straight, and then tapped against the thumb in a repeated motion. When broken down, it can be seen that this movement is an abbreviated way of fingerspelling N-O-N-O. Loan signs are usually glossed as the English word in all capital letters preceded by the pound sign(#).Other commonly known loan signs include #CAR, #JOB, #BACK, #YES, and #EARLY. =====Location===== Of all the possible locations on the body or in space, twelve are used to distinguish signs in ASL: *the whole face or head, *the upper face (forehead or brow), *the mid face (eyes or nose), *the lower face (chin or mouth), *the side face (cheek, temple, or ear), *the neck, *the trunk (shoulders, chest, and belly), *the upper arm, *the forearm (including the elbow), *the inside of the wrist, *the back of the wrist, and *the other (weak) hand: In this case, the weak hand may take one of the simpler handshapes listed above, such as the A, O, B, G, H, V, or L handshapes, but not others such as X or R. In addition, the sign may be made in 'neutral' space in front of the chest (zero (linguistics)zero location). For example, a 5 hand tapping the upper face means 'father', tapping the lower face it means 'mother', and tapping the torso (chest) it means 'fine'. Signs may be made with two active hands, oriented in a specific way both to each other and to the body locations. =====Referent locus system===== In addition to phonological location, there is also indexic location. For example, the 2nd/3rd-person pronouns point to their referent, or to a point in space (a 'locus') that's been ''set up'' to represent that referent. Directional (indexic) verbs see below are similar. However, no ''words'' are distinguished by such divisions of signing space. A referent locus may be set up by signing a noun and then pointing to a certain spot in sign space. The signer can later refer back to that noun by pointing to its associated location (that is, by using an indexic pronoun), or by incorporating the location into the motion of an indexic verb. For instance, if you point to a spot over your right shoulder when referring to your grandmother in another city, you can then mention her again by pointing over your shoulder instead of repeating 'my out-of-town grandmother'. Perhaps as many as eight loci may be productively used to distinguish pronouns in a conversation, before the speakers become overloaded, whereas English is restricted to three third-person pronouns: ''he, she,'' and ''they.'' Nouns can be set up without the need for initially pointing by making a sign for them at a salient point in space near the signer. This is often accompanied by the facial expression that indicates a topic. (See be...
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