Since my return, many people have asked me the following questions:
“Did you have fun?”
Yeah, it was fantastic!
“What was it like not to use your voice for a week?”
You get used to it pretty fast.
“But how much can a person really say in American Sign Language?”
The short answer is everything and anything,
but I’m going to give you the long answer.
The difference between spoken languages and signed languages is that one is auditory and the other is visual. One is stereo, the other is 3D.
How much can a person really say in French or Japanese or Inuktitut? Everything and anything.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a language. So is Langue des Signes Québécoise (LSQ), as well as Langue des Signes Française (LSF), Japanese Sign Language (JSL, 日本手話 or Nihon Shyuwa), Inuit Sign Language (ISL) and many, many other signed languages around the world. These are natural languages, and they are every bit as expressive as spoken languages.
There are numerous forms of signed communication that are not natural languages. Here are some examples:
Native-American Sign Language, now disappearing, was used for millennia as a lingua franca to enable tribes all over North America to communicate without having to learn one another’s languages. But it never served as anyone’s first language and could not be used to express an unlimited range of ideas.
Likewise, International Sign (IS) can be used to facilitate communication between people who are native speakers of different signed languages, but there is a limit to how much it can express and it is not a language used natively by anyone.
Signed Exact English (SEE) converts each word of an English sentence, even suffixes, into signs. People do not learn SEE as a mother tongue*; it is not a language of the deaf, it is English expressed with signs.
ASL is not English. It makes use of many English words, just as English makes use of many French words. I got to know my teacher Phillip and everyone in his class using only ASL. There was no talking even outside of our classes.
Now that I’ve started to get the hang of the basics, I want to learn more of this beautiful language!
*Yes, ASL can be called a “mother tongue”, and not just metaphorically. Whereas SEE expresses every English word with the hands, ASL uses non-manual elements (facial expression, body position and so on) in conjunction with signs to express, amongst other things, various aspects of grammar. In ASL, tongue placement can carry meaning, but it is visual rather than auditory.