Auditory System Hearing Testing Impairments American Sign Language

Many Deaf or hard of hearing individuals do not wish, or are unable, to use hearing aids or cochlear implants to assist their sense of hearing. American Sign Language, or ASL, is the official manual communication system used by members of the Deaf community in the United States. It is one of many signed languages used around the world, and has its own grammatical rules and structure.

ASL and other sign languages create commonality and pride in the Deaf community. Individuals who belong to the Deaf community see deafness as an integral part of their identity, and come together using signed languages, including ASL, to communicate.

Manual Communication

Manual communication involves communicating meaningful linguistic units through the use of the hands and body rather than the voice. Several manual communication systems exist:

  • American Sign Language (ASL) is used in the United States, and is distinct from sign languages used elsewhere, such as French Sign Language and British Sign Language.
  • Cued speech is a partially manual system used with speech/speechreading. In cued speech, Deaf individuals receive a manual cue to differentiate between sounds that look the same on the lips (e.g. “van” and “fan”). Cued language may be easier for hard of hearing individuals and their communication partners to interpret.
  • Signed exact english involves signing individual English words in English word order.
  • The manual alphabet contains a sign for each letter. It allows for fingerspelling of words that don’t have signs, including names.

Sign Structure

Signs can represent words, or whole concepts. Meaning of signs is determined by:

  • Body Language
  • Facial expression
  • Hand location in space
  • Hand movement
  • Hand shape
  • Lip movement.

Just as different intonations and combinations of sounds convey different meanings in spoken language, various combinations of the above parameters create different meanings in ASL. For example, changing only one aspect of a sign (e.g. the hand shape) while keeping the other parameters the same creates a different sign with an entirely different meaning. Differences in physical intensity or duration of the sign can convey additional meaning.

American Sign Language (ASL) Grammar

American Sign Language has its own grammatical system, separate from that of English. In ASL, components of a sentence are presented differently than in English. ASL users often first establish a time frame, then the topic (sometimes the object of the sentence) and characters, then comments or added information.

For example, instead of the English sentence, “I cleaned my house last week,” an ASL sentence structure could be “Week-past clean my house.” ASL grammar also differs from English in that it does not use state of being verbs (“am,” “is,” etc.). The “to” in the infinitive form of a verb is often omitted.

Resources

Life Print (n.d.). American sign language:Ggrammar. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from Life Print Web site: http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/grammar.htm.

Middlebury College (n.d.). ASL overview. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from Middlebury College Web site: http://f99.middlebury.edu/RU232A/STUDENTS/elefther/grammar.htm.

National Cued Speech Association (n.d.). Definition. Retrieved February 4, 2010, from National Cued Speech Association Web site: http://www.cuedspeech.org/sub/cued/definition.asp.