VIUCEDD offers Sign Language courses on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Please call for information on dates and times.
What is ASL?
American Sign Language (ASL) is a complex visual-spatial language that is used by the Deaf community in the United States, The U.S. Virgin Islands and English-speaking parts of Canada. It is a linguistically complete, natural language. It is the native language of many Deaf men and women, as well as some hearing children born into Deaf families. ASL shares no grammatical similarities to English and should not be considered in any way to be a broken, mimed, or gestural form of English. In terms of syntax, for example, ASL has a topic-comment syntax, while English uses Subject-Object-Verb. In fact, in terms of syntax, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English.
Some people have described ASL and other sign languages as "gestural" languages. This is not absolutely correct because hand gestures are only one component of ASL. Facial features such as eyebrow motion and lip-mouth movements are also significant in ASL as they form a crucial part of the grammatical system. In addition, ASL makes use of the space surrounding the signer to describe places and persons that are not present. Sign languages develop specific to their communities and is not universal. For example, ASL is totally different from British Sign Language even though both countries speak English. Many people consider it a shame that there isn't a universal sign language , however it's also a shame that there isn't a universal spoken language.
Interesting, however, American Sign Language shares many vocabulary terms with Old French Sign Language (LSF) because a French Deaf man, Laurent Clerc, was one of the first teachers of the Deaf in the U.S. in the nineteenth century. But the French connection to America is rare, most sign languages develop independently and each country (and in some cases, each city) has their own sign language.
"International" Sign Language?
There is no "universal sign language" or real "international sign language." There is a sign form called Gestuno that was developed by a committee of the World Federation of the Deaf. It's not really a language, more a vocabulary of signs that they all agree to use at international meetings. But no one really signs Gestuno as a native language, just as no one really uses Esperanto as their native spoken language*. In Europe, because of the increasing trade and mobility, there is a lingua Franca being developed, a Creole sign language that some have taken to calling International Sign Language. But neither Gestuno or the new European Creole are true natural languages from the linguistic perspective. Perhaps as a new generation of Deaf Euro-kids grows up, they will develop a new, natural Euro-sign language.
ASL Grammar and Linguistic Studies
As mentioned above, ASL has a very complex grammar. Unlike spoken languages where there is just one serial stream of phonemes, sign languages can have multiple things going on at the same time. This multiple segmentation makes it an exciting language for linguists to study and a frustrating language for Deaf-impaired (aka, hearing) people to learn. ASL has its own morphology (rules for the creation of words), phonetics (rules for hand shapes), and grammar that are very unlike those found in spoken languages. ASL and other sign languages promise to be a rich source of analysis for future linguists to come.
Programs for ASL Study.