American Sign Language


A language of United States

Alternate Names

No accurate census figures available that distinguish language use from audiological deafness. 100,000–500,000 primary users (Van Cleve 1986) out of nearly 2,000,000 profoundly deaf persons in the United States (1988), Below 1% of the population. Population total all countries: 7,050.


Also in Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, El Salvador, Gabon, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nigeria, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Singapore, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, U.S. Virgin Islands, Zimbabwe.

Language Status

5 (Developing).


Black American Sign Language, Tactile ASL (TASL). Some lexical variation across the United States and much of Canada, but intelligibility is high among all dialects called ASL. Black American Sign Language developed in schools for African-American deaf people due to segregation in the southern United States. It contains some distinctive vocabulary and grammatical structure. Tactile ASL (TASL) is used throughout the United States by and with deaf-blind people, especially those with Usher’s Syndrome, concentrations of which are found in Louisiana and Seattle. TASL uses ASL vocabulary and grammar, except (1) the deaf-blind person receives signs through touch by feeling signs in the palms, and (2) minor syntactic modifications to compensate for the deaf-blind person’s lack of access to the signer’s facial expressions. Some deaf-blind people learn Braille for reading English. Dialects or closely-related languages derived from ASL, are used in many other countries. Lexical similarity: 57% between modern ASL and French Sign Language (LSF) [fsl] on a comparison of 872 signs. Although the 2 are related, ASL has undergone substantial creolization (Woodward 1975, 1976).


SVO, topic comment structures; adjectives, numerals, genitives, question word initial or final, relative clause after noun head

Language Use

Used natively by many hearing children of deaf parents, and as L2 by many other hearing people. Interpreters required for many legal and civic situations. Lingua franca of the deaf world, used widely as L2. Reportedly a primary language in Barbados, Benin, Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, China (Hong Kong), Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Ghana, Jamaica, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nigeria, Philippines, Singapore, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

Language Development
Literacy is almost always based on English rather than ASL. Deaf people’s English varies from highly literate to illiterate, but the average deaf student graduates from high school with a 3rd or 4th grade reading level. TV. Videos. Dictionary. Grammar. NT: 2005.
SignFont Notation, limited usage. SignWriting, limited usage. Stokoe Notation, limited usage.
Other Comments

American Sign Language is different from Signed English, which refers to a range of signing registers that reflect some influence from English. At the extreme end are Signing Exact English (SEE) and Seeing Essential English (SEE2), artificially-constructed systems that attempt to match English word and morpheme order exactly. English-influenced signing that does not follow English grammar exactly is generally called contact signing or Pidgin Signed English. Deaf schools and interpreters in mainstream settings may use any one of these registers.

Also spoken in:

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