American Sign Language (ASL)
557px-American Sign Language ASL.svg
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North America, West Africa, Central Africa

Native speakers

250,000–500,000 in the United States (1972)[1]

Language family

French Sign-based (possibly a creole with Martha's Vineyard Sign Language)


Black American Sign Language
Bolivian Sign
Ghanaian Sign
Nigerian Sign
Francophone African Sign

Official language in


Recognised minority language in

  • 40 US states[2] recognize ASL to varying degrees, from a foreign language for school credits to the official language of that state's deaf population.
  • Ontario only in domains of: legislation, education and judiciary proceedings.[3]
  • Notice

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    American Sign Language (ASL) is the predominant sign language of deaf communities in the United States and most of anglophone Canada. Besides North America, dialects of ASL and ASL-based creoles are used in many countries around the world, including much of West Africa and parts of Southeast Asia. ASL is also widely learned as a second language, serving as a lingua franca. ASL is most closely related to French Sign Language (FSL). It has been proposed that ASL is a creole language, although ASL shows features atypical of creole languages, such as agglutinative morphology.

    ASL originated in the early 19th century in the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in Hartford, Connecticut, from a situation of language contact. Since then, ASL use has propagated widely via schools for the deaf and deaf community organizations. Despite its wide use, no accurate count of ASL users has been taken, though reliable estimates for American ASL users range from 250,000 to 500,000 persons, including a number of children of deaf adults. ASL users face stigma due to beliefs in the superiority of spoken language to signed language, compounded by the fact that ASL is often glossed in English due to the lack of a standard writing system.

    ASL signs have a number of phonemic components, including movement of the face and torso as well as the hands. ASL is not a form of pantomime, but iconicity does play a larger role in ASL than in spoken languages. English loan words are often borrowed through fingerspelling, although ASL grammar is unrelated to that of English. ASL has verbal agreement and aspectual marking, and has a productive system of forming agglutinative classifiers. Many linguists believe ASL to be a subject-verb-object (SVO) language, but there are several alternative proposals to account for ASL word order.


    1. Mitchell, Ross; Young, Travas; Bachleda, Bellamie; Karchmer, Michael (2006). "How Many People Use ASL in the United States?: Why Estimates Need Updating" (PDF). Sign Language Studies (Gallaudet University Press.) 6 (3). ISSN 0302-1475. Retrieved November 27, 2012.
    2. Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center. "States that Recognize American Sign Language as a Foreign Language" (PDF). Retrieved 23 July 2015.
    3. Province of Ontario (2007). "Bill 213: An Act to recognize sign language as an official language in Ontario"

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