- What does ASL stand for? No, it's not Age-Sex-Location. It stand for American Sign Language.
- Is ASL a real language? Yes! For centuries ASL has been considered just pantomime, gesturing, or "monkey speak". The common assumption was that reason could only be attained through spoken language, thus sign language was sub-human or irrational. Only recently have linguists given serious consideration to the form, which has it's own system of grammar, syntax, and etymology and is shared among a community.
- Is ASL a universal language? No. Each country has their own sign language. There is an international sign language called Gestuno. It's used sometimes by the World Federation of the Deaf and at the Deaflympics. It uses many signs that are common to several sign languages, but it is such a simple and limited language that it's impractical to use it all the time.
- Is ASL derived from English? No. ASL is NOT signed English. It's origins lie with French Sign Language, learned from early teachers for the deaf, and some native signs that developed in the vineyard country in California, which had a large Deaf population. ASL does draw on English, but the syntax is completely different. There is Signed Exact English, which follows the same grammar structure as English and includes specific words not found in ASL, such as articles "a", "an", and "the". However, SEE is rarely used among the Deaf. ASL and SEE can be combined into a Pidgin Signed English, which is the style most hearing people sign when learning ASL for the first time.
- Is ASL a foreign language? Yes. Most people associate the word "foreign" with outside the country, but "foreign" is anything that is not familiar to you. So unless you already know ASL, it is foreign to you. Many high schools and colleges accept ASL as a foreign language that can be taken for credit. WKU currently offers ASL 1 and 2 for credit.
- Is there a written form of ASL? No. And personally, I don't see how there could be an effective written version of ASL. The language is based on space and movement, which is near impossible to capture on paper. Just ask anyone trying to learn new signs from an ASL book. Does that mean ASL cannot spread ideas past face-to-face interaction? Certainly not. Video is the best way to capture ASL and it be understandable. With technology advancing, ASL has a much better chance of spreading than in the past. In fact, when magazines are able to mass produce digital pages that can play video, I think the Deaf community will enjoy a surge in publications.
- Why do people make such weird faces when they sign? If you've ever seen a conversation is ASL, it is very animated. This is for two reasons: one, because raising and furrowing one's eyebrows are central to ASL grammar and two, because facial expressions adds meaning and emotion to signs. People don't talk in a monotone, so it goes that they also don't sign without facial expression.
- Are there "accents" is ASL like in spoken languages? Yes. Different regions develop their own native signs and sometimes a style of signing. Kind of like people on the east coast speak differently from the west, the north from the south, etc. The most notable accent in ASL is a "hearing accent". Hearing people tend to sign slower, less smoothly, and move their lips. Unless a hearing person is a native signer, they will almost always have this accent.
Hope that clears some things up. If you have more questions, post them in the comments. I plan on doing a follow up post for more in depth questions or ones I missed.