Basic Facts on ASL and Deaf Culture

There are some basic facts regarding the language and culture in question to dispel some common misunderstandings.

  • Deaf communities

The Deaf communities mainly include the Deaf people, their hearing families and friends along with professionals working with ASL and/or Deaf people (teachers, interpreters, etc.). Contrary to the common view that deaf people are helpless and need assistance, the Deaf people thrive in their lives within the deaf communities. The Deaf culture passed down through the generations has treasured traditions, social norms, and artistic expressions. Sign language and Deaf culture are intertwined.

  • Signed languages have language features unlike the signed systems

Signed languages are not to be conflated with the signed systems used by some professionals working with Deaf people. Please note the subtle difference in the wording: languages vs systems. Such systems have no intrinsic language features and usually pair a word and a sign following the word order dictated by the spoken language. They are more akin to Braïlle or Morse which adapt the spoken languages to modalities other than the voice.

  • American Sign Language

There are many signed languages used by the Deaf communities around the world. Although for the untrained eye, they may seem the same signed language, they are different. The Lengua de Señas Mexicana in México, the Langue des Signes Française in France, and the British Sign Language in the United Kingdom, differ in grammar and vocabulary as do the spoken languages in those countries: Spanish, French, and English.

ASL, one of such signed languages, is the language used by the Deaf communities in the United States and Canada. It has evolved from a base of French Sign Language (LSF), Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), and from the pockets of Deaf communities scattered throughout New England.

  • American School for the Deaf

The American School for the Deaf (ASD), the cradle of ASL, was founded in 1817 in Hartford, CT, and is the first school for Deaf children in the Western hemisphere.

  • ASL in society

The use of ASL spans the life cycle. Deaf and hearing people, from infancy well into adulthood, learn and use ASL. Baby sign language is taught to infants as young as a few months old and is a very popular way of establishing rudimentary communication with infants before they can vocalize. Amazing! The proliferation of ASL courses and programs over the past few decades has resulted in many offerings at the secondary and postsecondary levels. And here at Wesleyan!