American Sign Language


A language of United States

Alternate Names

250,000 in United States (Mitchell et al 2006). Total users in all countries: 271,700.


Scattered, especially in urban centers and near (present or former) residential deaf schools.

Language Status

5 (Developing).


Black American Sign Language (Black ASL), Tactile American Sign Language (TASL, Tactile ASL). Some lexical variation across the United States and much of Canada, but intelligibility is high among all varieties called ASL. Black American Sign Language, developed in schools for African-American children due to segregation in the southern United States, 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 whom are found in Louisiana and Seattle. TASL uses ASL vocabulary and grammar, except (1) signs are perceived by touching the signer’s hands or other parts of their body, and (2) there are modifications to compensate for lack of access to the signer’s facial expressions and other parts of the body that are not being touched. In Seattle, more substantial structural changes have occurred since 2007 as a result of the ‘pro-tactile’ movement, which has deliberately worked to adapt the language for efficient tactile use (Edwards 2014). This has resulted in a variety that is not mutually-intelligible with (visual) ASL and is spreading to other parts of the country (2019 T Edwards); it should probably be recognized as a distinct language from visual ASL. Some deaf-blind people learn Braille for reading English. Varieties or closely-related languages derived from ASL are used in many other countries. Lexical similarity: 58% between modern ASL and French Sign Language (LSF) [fsl] on a comparison of 872 signs (Woodward 1978b). Although the 2 are historically related, ASL has undergone substantial creolization (Woodward 1975, Woodward 1976).


One-handed fingerspelling system derived from French Sign Language [fsl]. SVO, topic comment structures; adjectives, numerals, genitives, question word initial or final, relative clause after noun head.

Language Use

Interpreters required for many legal and civic situations. Lingua franca of the deaf world, used widely as L2 in many countries other than those listed here. In many cases, although ASL may have been introduced in the country at some time in the past, the actual sign language that has developed out of it is not mutually intelligible with standard ASL as used in North America. Conversely, in other countries, the sign language may be mutually intelligible with standard ASL, but is given a name based on the name of the country. Used by all. Used as L2 by Hawaii Sign Language [hps], Plains Indian Sign Language [psd].

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 third or fourth grade reading level. TV. Videos. Dictionary. Grammar. NT: 2005.


Unwritten documents [Zxxx].

Other Comments

American Sign Language is different from Signed English, a range of signing registers influenced by English. Signing Exact English (SEE) and Seeing Essential English (SEE2) are artificially-constructed systems that attempt to match English word order and morphemic structure exactly. Pidgin Signed English (PSE) does not follow English grammar exactly, and is sometimes referred to as ‘contact signing’. Deaf schools and interpreters in mainstreamed educational settings may use any of these sign varieties. The alternate name ‘SIGN AMERICA’ is a representation of the signs that sign language users in other countries often use for ASL. This name is not used in English, but is a word-for-sign translation of the signed name.

Also spoken in:

Expand All
Collapse All
Page Views Left: