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Sign Language is not a universal language, which means every country has its own unique sign system, even countries with the same spoken language. American Sign Language was strongly influenced by French Sign Language, but is not identical to it, as both have evolved and changed over the years. Although America has at least three different Sign Language systems, ASL, or American Sign Language, is the choice of most Deaf adults. It is an actual language, distinct from English or any other language. It is not “short-hand,” a kind of “Morse code,” or “English on the hands. “ It conveys visually much more than any spoken language can. It is “dynamic,” meaning it develops and changes with time and necessity.
ASL has many “dialects” or “accents” as does any spoken language. Many times it is possible to tell the area of the country from which a signer comes, by watching his signing style and vocabulary. Each area of the country will develop the signs particular to their environment and lives. New signs must be developed for new inventions or concepts. One such fairly new invention, the COMPUTER, can be signed several different ways as demonstrated on the video. BIRTHDAY has at least three common signs. Now, new signs are emerging for E-MAIL, INTERNET, etc. We must be careful not to decide that someone’s sign is “wrong,” just because it is different than the sign we have learned. Variations exist due to geography or “accents,” as well as individual signing styles.
Everyone agrees that the best and quickest way to learn a language is total immersion with native speakers. That is also true of ASL. A book, a CD, even a video tape cannot compete with the valuable interaction with Deaf children and adults whose first language is ASL. The facial expressions, body movements and grammatical principles - all 3-dimensional elements inherent in a visual language - cannot be learned from a two-dimensional medium. We hope that our book and video tapes will give you a good foundation, but it is important that you find some Deaf friends who can help you become fluent.