Travis Dougherty explains and demonstrates the ASL alphabet. Voice-over interpretation by Gilbert G. Lensbower.
ASL emerged as a language in the American School for the Deaf (ASD), founded in 1817.:7 This school brought together Old French Sign Language, various village sign languages, and home sign systems; ASL was created in this situation of language contact.:11[nb 1] ASL was influenced by its forerunners but distinct from all of them.:7
The influence of French Sign Language (LSF) on ASL is readily apparent; for example, it has been found that about 58% of signs in modern ASL are cognate to Old French Sign Language signs.:7:14 However, this is far less than the standard 80% measure used to determine whether related languages are actually dialects.:14 This suggests that nascent ASL was highly affected by the other signing systems brought by the ASD students, despite the fact that the school's original director Laurent Clerc taught in LSF.:7:14 In fact, Clerc reported that he often learned the students' signs rather than conveying LSF::14
I see, however, and I say it with regret, that any efforts that we have made or may still be making, to do better than, we have inadvertently fallen somewhat back of Abbé de l'Épée. Some of us have learned and still learn signs from uneducated pupils, instead of learning them from well instructed and experienced teachers.
— Clerc, 1852, from Woodward 1978:336
It has been proposed that ASL is a creole with LSF as the superstrate language and with the native village sign languages as substrate languages.:493 However, more recent research has shown that modern ASL does not share many of the structural features that characterize creole languages.:501 ASL may have begun as a creole and then undergone structural change over time, but it is also possible that it was never a creole-type language.:501 There are modality-specific reasons that sign languages tend towards agglutination, such as the ability to simultaneously convey information via the face, head, torso, and other body parts. This might override creole characteristics such as the tendency towards isolating morphology.:502 Additionally, Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet may have used an artificially constructed form of manually coded language in instruction rather than true LSF.:497
Although the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia share English as a common oral and written language, ASL is not mutually intelligible with British Sign Language (BSL) nor Auslan.:68 All three languages show degrees of borrowing from English, but this alone is not sufficient for cross-language comprehension.:68 It has been found that a relatively high percentage (37–44%) of ASL signs have similar translations in Auslan, which for oral languages would suggest that they belong to the same language family.:69 However, this does not seem justified historically for ASL and Auslan, and it is likely that this resemblance is due to the higher degree of iconicity in sign languages in general, as well as contact with English.:70
American Sign Language is growing in popularity among many states. Many people in high school and colleges desire to take it as a foreign language, but until recently, it was not a creditable foreign language elective. The issue was that many did not consider it a foreign language. ASL users, however, have a very distinct culture and way they interact when talking. Their facial expressions and hand movements reflect what they are communicating. They also have their own sentence structure which sets the language apart.
American sign language is now being accepted by many colleges as a foreign language credit; many states are making it mandatory to accept it.