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American Sign Language ASL Online

The history of American Sign Language did not actually start in America. The concept of using written signs and symbols started in a book written in 1620. Over a century later, schools for the deaf were founded in France around 1755. Abbe L’Eppe taught that hand signals and gestures could be used by the deaf to communicate with people that could hear. This new way of communication was also a way for the deaf to communicate with each other. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is credited for bringing this communication from France to the U.S. He was inspired to do so because of his work with a deaf girl named Alice.  The first deaf school was founded in the U.S. in Hartford, Connecticut.  It is interesting to note that the Plains Indians developed a very similar system as part of their culture for intertribal communication that was very similar to American Sign Language.

 The American School for the Deaf was founded in 1817. The purpose of the school was so that deaf children in particular could have a meaningful place in society, by learning to communicate.  Because teachers at the time were uneducated as to how to communicate with deaf children, they could not properly educate them. The children needed a venue where they would be accepted, taught how to communicate, and how to relate to people around them. That first school has expanded into the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind. This was a university for students with these conditions. The college was later renamed Gallaudet University in 1986. The American School for the Deaf is still operational. It accepts children from three years of age through age 21. The school has expanded its curriculum to work with local school districts. The course of study is individualized for students, according to their grade, and age level. The students learn communications, socialization, and vocational skills in keeping with today’s technological demands.

 Fingerspelling is a system of using hand signs to represent the alphabet. Fingerspelling is in a class by itself when it comes to deaf communication. For example, certain words might be fingerspelled instead of signed (using the appropriate hand sign for the word) in certain instances. ASL writing systems involve using all capital letters in English to teach the structure of the language when one is first learning it. However, written words aren’t a main component of ASL. The most prominent writing system is called Sign Writing. 

 These links give history, and show examples of ASL in action. ASL is very commonplace, and is recognized as a living and accepted language. Today, there are over 10,000 ASL signs. Within this number, there are many regional signs and “accents”, just like with verbal speech in the U.S.

American School For The Deaf: Find out more information about the school.

National Institute On Deafness: Learn about the history of ASL, and the difference of ASL, with other signed languages around the world.

Interactive Finger Spelling Site: Take quizzes on your knowledge and speed of ASL finger spelling.

Sign Writing Site: Learn about sign writing.