Is Sign Language a Visual Form of English?

This is a common misconception about American Sign Language (ASL). Many people believe sign language has one sign for each word and using sign language to communicate is just taking those signs and visually representing the English sentence. In reality there is not a sign for every word. Also, ASL has a different grammatical structure than English does. Since ASL is a visual language, there are many aspects of English that need to be represented, such as tone, intent, and affect that cannot be conveyed with just a sign, but are also accompanied by facial expressions.

Every sign in ASL has five parameters: handshape, location, movement, palm orientation, and non-manual markers (facial/body expression). According to the Linguistic Society of America:...ASL "uses question words such as "who," "what," "where," "when," and "why." In English and in most other European languages, these question words come at the beginning of the sentence, e.g. What did she buy yesterday? In ASL, this questions may be expressed in several ways, including one with the question word at the end of the sentence (SHE BUY YESTERDAY WHAT?), or both at the beginning and the end (WHAT SHE BUY YESTERDAY WHAT?). This is another way that ASL grammar differs from English."American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language. With signing, the brain processes linguistic information through the eyes. The shape, placement, and movement of the hands, as well as facial expressions and body movements, all play important parts in conveying information."

The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) explains that sign language is not a universal language with each country having its own sign language, and regions having dialects, much like the many languages spoken all over the world. Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. Like all languages, ASL is a living language that grows and changes over time.

Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says ASL is a language completely separate and distinct from English. It contains all the fundamental features of language, with its own rules for pronunciation, word formation, and word order. While every language has ways of signaling different functions, such as asking a question rather than making a statement, languages differ in how this is done. For example, English speakers may ask a question by raising the pitch of their voices and by adjusting word order; ASL users ask a question by raising their eyebrows, widening their eyes, and tilting their bodies forward.

Resources To Learn More:

SIGN Academy: https://www.mysignacademy.com/

Linguistic Society of America: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/

National Association of the Deaf: https://www.nad.org/

National Institute on Deafness and Other Speech Disorders: https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/american-sign-language#1

Handspeak: https://www.handspeak.com/learn/index.php?id=397