American Sign Language for the Deaf Lesson 1
By Elaine Ernst Schneider
One baby in one thousand is born with a hearing loss so severe that he or she cannot understand speech through hearing alone, even with the use of a hearing aid. These children most often converse through use of Total Communication, which is a combination of American Sign Language (ASL), informal gestures, finger spelling, facial expressions, body language, and spoken words. American Sign Language is the visual/gesturing part of Total Communication, which is the primary means of communication for deaf people in American and most of Canada.
American Sign Language is flourishing and is so extensively used that many colleges, air lines, commercial companies, and educational institutions recognize it as a second language. Some high schools and home school associations accept ASL as a foreign language credit, right alongside Spanish, French, and German. Those who sign can find professional fields in many areas, including science, law, community, and education.
American Sign Language often combines gestures and finger spelling to make a visual expression of language. For example, the same basic sign represents “car” when made with a “c” hand, “taxi” when made with a “t” hand, and “bus” when made with the “b” hand position. Because some signs double for several related words, finger spelling is important when a certain word is to be conveyed and therefore is the first thing to be learned. Below is the sign language alphabet. These pictures were made from engravings by Professor Joseph C. Gordon, M.A., of the Deaf-Mute College. They were first published by Brentino Brothers in 1886. While signs for words have evolved and changed with time (1886 was before the Modern Rocket Age; hence, there was no need then for the gamut of rocket signs available today), finger spelling has remained much as it was in Professor Gordon’s day. Note the alphabet markings that are on the cuff links so that you may easily denote A – Z hand signs.
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