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  1. 1. Ahmad 1Maida AhmadMrs. Corbett1st Period/ AP Literature11/17/2011 Senior Project Research Paper: American Sign Language American Sign Language (ASL) is a complicated language spoken through intricate signsmade by one‟s hands blended with a variety of facial expressions, body positions, and othergestures. The language is most commonly used by the deaf population in North America and isthe major communication alternative for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Since ASL is seen as anauthentic and definite language, it has many variations, just like other languages do, such asFrench and Spanish. There is no single form of sign language that is universal because eachvariation of sign language is unique to its specific region. ASL is an exceptional form ofcommunication and beneficial to an enormous part of the population. Its origin, presentconditions, future expectations, and overall impact are quite extraordinary and eye-opening. Although it is not certain where ASL originated, it is true that it came to be more than200 years ago from the unification of local sign languages and French Sign Language (LSF).The modern day ASL has been influenced by both LSF and local sign languages and their mergehas created a deep, elaborate, and complete language. Although similar to spoken languages,sign language also significantly differs from them in a variety of forms. Simona Damian fromGalileo Academic Search Premier reinforces the fact that “just like spoken languages, signlanguages are merged with the culture of the Deaf communities” (“Spoken vs. Sign Languages –What‟s the Difference?”). There is no severe discrimination between the two types of languages,but there is one major boundary separating the two. Spoken languages are understood through
  2. 2. Ahmad 2ears, while sign languages are understood through eyes. Although minor solutions are present,this difference restricts the deaf and hearing from communicating without any complexity. Froma physical perspective, sign language uses more energy and provides more exhaustion thanspoken languages. Nevertheless, both spoken languages and sign languages strive to completethe same task, which is make conversation possible for all people. Sign language has truly impacted many different cultures and lives who struggled withthe exchange of dialogue. However, sign language was not only created for the goal of easingcommunication hardships. Some members of diverse cultures take vows of silence and secrecy,which drives them to learn a language that doesn‟t require any spoken words. According to GaleDiscovering Collection, “members of religious orders sworn to silence often rely on simplegestures rather than a coded system to communicate with one another” (“Sign Language”).Because of sign language‟s current benefit to such an abundant population in the world, morepeople are beginning to take a sincere fascination in the language. Several experts believe that sign language can also be used to communicate with animals.For example, since chimpanzees cannot speak the same language as humans, experts supposed itwould be possible to teach them to hold a conversation through hand motions and bodylanguage. MAS Ultra – School Edition explains that “as a scientific experiment conducted byColumbia University professor Herbert Terrace, baby Nim was initially raised by a surrogate„mother,‟ Stephanie Lafarge, who lived with her husband and three children in a Manhattanapartment” (“Of Chimps and Humans”). Nim, a baby chimpanzee, was taught to communicatethrough sign language as a part of Project Nim. He was not capable of creating sentences, butthat is only because his motivation to do so was not significantly great. If Nim wished, he could
  3. 3. Ahmad 3have produced complex sentences because he was a very intelligent animal, considering heunderstood all the sign language he was exposed to. An estimated 12 out of every 1,000 people with hearing impairment become deaf underthe age of 18. Because of this, it is encouraged for children to learn sign language in their veryearly ages. Since children cannot easily communicate with others, teaching them sign languagewouldn‟t require them to speak. All they would have to do is make signs with their hands,something that is seen as simpler and less challenging. Referring to the National Institute onDeafness and Other Communication Disorders, “research suggests that the first few years of lifeare the most crucial to a child‟s development of language skills, and even the early months of lifecan be important for establishing successful communication” (“American Sign Language”). There has also been an incredible nationwide ASL boom, and although no one knowswhat exactly caused it, the amount of students enrolled in sign language classes in highereducation institutions escalated 432 percent between 1998 and 2002, and has since continued toclimb. Because of this overwhelming statistic, an increase in interpreters is occurring, which isbenefitting the deaf community tremendously. According to Middle Search Plus, interpretersenjoy their jobs thoroughly but “what complicates matters is the need to transmit the intent of thespeaker, in all its intellectual and emotional dimensions” (“Everywhere a Sign”). In a spokenlanguage, emotion is identified through the pitch and tone of spoken words, along with theenunciation of specific words. Likewise, sign language consists of heightened pronunciations ofcertain signs and corresponding facial expressions. Many people that are deaf have the challenging decision to make of whether a publicschool or deaf school would more appropriately fit them. With over 50,000 deaf children in theUnited States, there is a risk the hearing impaired will receive less educational opportunities.
  4. 4. Ahmad 4Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context states that “historically, approaches to educating childrenwho are deaf have been based on emotion and personal philosophy rather than positive outcome;in contrast, the education of children who are hard of hearing has largely been ignored”(“Hearing Impairment”). Every deaf child in the United States should be allowed a free andproper education and strong support system without any unfairness. It is a fact that the nation has become more visual and therefore, depends and prefers tosign rather than speak. ASL is considered beautiful; it is like an intricate dance with a deepmeaning and fascinating background. According to U.S. News & World Report, “harnessing thepower of movement can make communication more expressive and even more precise; its thephysical nature of ASL that makes it an appealing language for a range of ages” (“Learn SignLanguage”). The elaborate hand movements and dramatic facial expressions makes ASL moreattractive to young adults than other languages, such as French and Spanish. What many peopledo not understand, however, is that sign language has a very specialized syntax structure andorganization. Just because sign language is not spoken does not mean that it is easier to learn andunderstand. Hearing impairment can stretch from very subtle to permanent loss, which can also becalled deafness. There are many different forms of hearing loss and Brian Douglas Hoyle fromGale Virtual Reference Library confirms that “some conditions that can be addressed by surgeryor the use of a hearing aid or an implant have varying levels of recovery; other conditionsinvolving permanent deafness cannot be cured” (“Hearing Disorders”). No lasting solution ispresent for hearing loss, so many people turn to ASL as a last resort. No matter what the outcomeof a surgery or treatment, it is crucial for people to learn sign language so they can communicatewithout difficulty afterwards. Hearing loss occurs worldwide to both genders of all ages and
  5. 5. Ahmad 5races. The assortment of hearing disorders consist of a reduction in the capability to distinguishparticular frequencies of sound, a ringing or other peculiar noise that is not connected to anyauthentic external sound, damage caused by physical trauma or severe infection, and hereditarilydetermined structural deformity. In 1861, Paul Broca, a famous French neurologist, made a very significant discovery thatchanged lives all over the world. According to Student Research Center, Paul Broca “discoveredthat patients who could understand spoken language but had difficulty speaking tended to havedamage to a part of the brains left hemisphere that became known as Brocas area. In 1874German physician Carl Wernicke found that patients with fluent speech but severecomprehension problems typically had damage to another part of the left hemisphere, which wasdubbed Wernickes area” (“Sign Language in the Brain”). Both Paul Broca and Carl Wernickewere curious about how it was possible for the hearing-impaired to comprehend language in thesame way the people capable of hearing understood it, without listening to any words or triggers.After completing many experiments and researching everything relevant to the topic, they finallyanswered their questions, although some puzzles still remained unsolved. Sign language assists in successfully developing an identity for a deaf child. According toGalileo Literary Resource Center, from exposure to sign language, deaf children “know how torecognize and participate in Deaf culture, especially through sign language, and can interpret thesurrounding world in a way that is compatible with their experience as Deaf people. All Deafpeople need help being socialized into the Deaf community, and they often find this guidance inDeaf clubs, from Deaf role models or, rarely, from Deaf teachers” (“The Role of Sign LanguageNarratives in Developing Identity for Deaf Children”). Sign language is used as something all
  6. 6. Ahmad 6deaf and hearing-impaired people can have in common and can use to hold conversations witheach other. In conclusion, sign language is a unique language with complex gestures, remarkablemovements, and a specific organization and structure. It is something that binds the deaf andhearing-impaired community together. ASL is a crucial option for them and it improves livestremendously. Although difficult to learn, just like every other language is, it is worth the effortand strength. It takes a while to become fluent in sign language, but once fluent, one can performas an interpreter and work with others who are determined to learn ASL. With the hearingimpairment rate increasing dramatically, there is no better time to expand sign language over allage groups, genders, and races. Sign language is part of an exceptional and highly distinctivelinguistic culture, expressing emotions and words through tiny gestures of one‟s hands.
  7. 7. Ahmad 7 Works CitedBattey, James F, Jr. “American Sign Language.” NIDCD: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. National Institutes of Health, 4 Feb. 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. <>. Although many would assume that American Sign Language is a universal language, there are many different versions of the language. For example, not only is there American Sign Language (ASL), but also British Sign Language (BSL), French Sign Language (FSL), and much more.Cohn, Jessica. “Everywhere a Sign.” Middle Search Plus. Career World, Sept. 2008. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. < login.aspx?direct=true&db=mih&AN=34474211&site=src-live.>. An astonishing twenty-eight million Americans are deaf or hearing impaired, according to the National Association of the Deaf. That group of people makes up an unbelievable 10 percent of the U.S. population that requires assistance in easily accessing education, health services, and more.Dalebout, Susan, Elizabeth A Martinez, and Daniel P Hallahan. “Hearing Impairment.” Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Encyclopedia of Education, 2002. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. < ReferenceDetailsWindow?displayGroupName=Reference&disableHighlighting=false&p rodId=OVIC&action=e&windowstate=normal&catId=&documentId=GALE%7CCX340 3200286&mode=view&userGroupName=cant48040&jsid=06f2de36747ccadb799d6eaa3 270fc10>. Because hearing loss can be both slight and extremely severe, sign language is essential for all types of situations that can cause difficulty in communication. There are
  8. 8. Ahmad 8 also many significant school options offered so that equality is reinforced for all types of children.Damian, Simona. “Spoken vs. Sign Languages - What‟s the difference?” Academic Search Premier. Ed. Romanian Association for Cognitive Scienc. Galileo EBSCOhost, June 2011. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. < login?url= login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=61466633&site=ehost-live>. Although all languages should be seen as similar because of each one‟s intricate organization and complex structures, there are significant differences between spoken languages and sign language. For one, out of the abundant amount of countries in the world, only a select few offer and support equal opportunities for the deaf community to create their own linguistic point of view.Hallett, Vicky. “Learn Sign Language.” Middle Search Plus. U.S. News & World Report, 31 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. < login.aspx?direct=true&db=mih&AN=28024629&site=src-live.>. Similar to French and other spoken languages, American Sign Language consists of a complex grammatical structure that needs to be understood. Instead of struggling with perfecting one‟s accent, however, the challenge of ASL is to incorporate the uses of facial expressions and body language.Hoyle, Brian Douglas. “Hearing Disorders.” Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Cengage Learning, 2005. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. <>.
  9. 9. Ahmad 9 One treatment the deaf and hearing impaired experience is learning sign language. Although the language doesn‟t cure the person‟s disability, it makes it easier for the person to communicate with others if financial problems for more options are present.Lucia, Cynthia, and Dan Lybarger. “Of Chimps and Humans.” MAS Ultra - School Edition. Cineaste, Summer 2011. Web. 17 Oct. 2011. < login.aspx?direct=true&db=ulh&AN=60962840&site=src-live.>. This article clarifies the fact that anyone can be taught to communicate. Although Nim, the chimpamzee, was placed in an unfamiliar and complicated environment, he was taught to use sign language to communicate and express himself. ASL led Nim to abandon his wild and unruly nature for a more organized and calm persona.“Sign Language.” Discovering Collection. Ed. Kimberley A McGrath and Bridget Travers. Gale, 2006. Web. 30 Apr. 2006. < 647500700&source=gale&srcprod=DISC&userGroupName=cant48040&version=1.0>. Sign language has had a large impact on the deaf community. Before the discovery of sign language, the hearing impaired were simply not educated. However, the deaf have mastered the depth and complexity of sign language, which is one of the most intricate languages in the world.“Sign Language in the Brain.” Student Research Center. EBSCOhost, Aug. 2002. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. < login.aspx?direct=true&db=hxh&AN=10684233&site=src-live>. In the mid-19th century, scientists made large strides towards understanding more thoroughly the regions of the brain involved in speech. These studies led scientists to evaluate how the brain of
  10. 10. Ahmad 10 someone who is hearing impaired can function and understand sign language through body language.Sutton-Spence, Rachel. “The Role of Sign Language Narratives in Developing Identity for Deaf Children.” Literary Reference Center. Galileo EBSCOhost, Dec. 2010. Web. 13 Nov. 2011. < login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=59795579&site=ehost-live>. When deaf children learn sign language, it is obvious that they are absorbing a whole new culture and identity that will become an influential part of them.