A Quick Guide To 3 Common Forms Of Sign Language In The United States

As the parent of a child with a significant or complete hearing loss, your decisions now can impact your child for the rest of his or her life. Although it's not unusual for people to only be familiar with American Sign Language, there are two other common forms of signed communication in use in the United States today. Therefore, it will be helpful to learn about each type, so that you can teach your child to communicate without the spoken word as soon as possible.

#1-American Sign Language

American Sign Language is also known as ASL and is thought to be the fourth most common language in the U.S. In addition to the hand signs, it incorporates the use of facial expressions and body positioning to convey intent and expression. It's important to note that in addition to being the most common form of signed language in the United States, its fundamental practices also extend to and impact the use of other forms of signed English.

ASL has been in use in the U.S. since 1817 when a minister from Hartford, Connecticut wanted his deaf daughter to have an adequate education. He had therefore traveled to Europe to learn about deaf education from one of the only existing facilities that provided it at the time. Upon his return to the United States, he opened a school, and for the first time, deaf children had the opportunity to learn just as their hearing counterparts did. Unfortunately, deaf education was not a common part of the public educational system for many years.

#2-Pidgin Signed English

As previously mentioned, ASL has impacted other forms of signed communication. Its influence is seen in Pidgin Signed English, or PSE, in the vocabulary that PSE features. While many of the signs used in PSE and ASL are identical or very similar, it differs because it usually removes any unnecessary word usage. It uses ASL signs and mimics spoken English, but since it is not grammatically correct, it's often challenging for new users.

For example, connecting words such as "to" and "the" are not used in PSL. In addition, tenses of words are not differentiated, so users of this form of sign language will sign words without a current or past tense, so "ing" and "ed" are not used. It is generally considered to be easier to use, and it is a common way for hearing teachers and hearing-impaired students to communicate in an academic setting. It can best be described as a hybrid of English and ASL, but lacks the firm guidelines associated with ASL.

#3-Signing Exact English

A third option is Signing Exact English, or SEE. As its name suggests, it functions by precisely translating every word that is spoken. Unlike PSE, that includes connecting words and changes signs to convey the tense of each word and has been in use since 1972.

It also obtains many of its signs from ASL, but changes the handshapes by using the first letter of the spoken word that is being translated. It has been in use since 1970 and became popular due to the inadequate opportunities for deaf education at the time.

SEE uses the following components as part of its language:

  • Handshape

  • Orientation (positioning of the palm)

  • Movement of the sign (its size, direction and shape)

  • Location (where the sign is given in relation to the body)

In conclusion, learning that your child has a significant or total hearing loss will be a challenging experience for your entire family. Fortunately, early intervention including the use of an acceptable form of signed communication can allow your child to enjoy a normal childhood. Therefore, it is best to choose and learn a signed language and begin to use it with your son or daughter as soon as possible.

For more information, contact Professional Sign Language Interpreting Inc or a similar organization.


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