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Sign Language   Tags: deaf, faq  

A collection of commonly-asked questions about sign languages, particularly American Sign Language.
Last Updated: Jul 17, 2012 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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As a form of communication, one could say that sign language is one of the oldest ways to convey meaning among two or more people.

Various models of nonverbal communication, for example, incorporate the use of gestures, manual signals that symbolize a concept or concrete reality, used to supplement verbal -- or, rather, spoken -- communication or to act in its absence. A hand held out, palm up, for example, often means "stop," "halt," or "wait." Various cultural considerations suggest that such communication is not universal, however; whether one uses the right or left hand may imply an insult, for instance, or the hand's position relative to the body may convey a request for a high-five.

It is occasionally implied that ASL, and other signed languages like it, are merely an evolved form of gestural communication. However, ASL, to take a single example, is a verbal language of its own with a complex syntax and symbology of its own. While gestures are incorporated into the language -- as they are in speech -- many manual signs have no explicit meaning beyond that which is shared among ASL users.

In this guide, you'll find answers to your questions about the users of ASL, current academic acceptance and official recognition of ASL as a language in its own right, links to ASL translations of much-used and often-spoken texts, and more information about the many different sign languages currently in use around the world. Use the yellow tabs above to navigate through the different sections of this LibGuide; in addition, if you have any further questions, please feel free to use the box on the left -- it is available on every page -- to communicate with a librarian for more in-depth information.


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