Is American Sign Language a foreign language?

Here we have is a “is it or is it not”? topic.  Should ASL be considered a foreign language?

Yes and No.

Huh!? What!?

Yes… because despite ASL being an American language, people remain clueless to how ASL is used in our communities. Most people assume; incorrectly, that ASL is a form of English … signed English if you may.  Let me give you another set of American languages that is foreign to English-speaking Americans; Native American (Indian) languages: Navajo, Iroquois, Cherokee, Creek and many others.  These languages are equally foreign as ASL is.

Oh, and how about this? Spanish – are we talking about Spaniard or Hispanic Spanish?  Spaniard Spanish is actually a foreign language because it comes from Spain whereas Hispanic Spanish is an American language (“New World”, Western Hemisphere, Americas), which only had influence from the Spaniard Spanish and still retain their linguistic inflections. So which country’s language are students are actually learning?

I say that the Native Indians have really remained true to their roots with with less influence from the invading European Languages.

Now for the no… it is obvious it is an American language. It is a language used in America by deaf people and those who were born to or learned language. Two out of three linguistic roots in the origin of ASL are American languages: Native Indian Signs and Martha Vineyard’s. Since then, it has evolved to its current linguistic structure – surviving the impact of Signed English (which is a deaf education mode of communication based on the English speaking language).  ASL is not universal. It does act as a colonial language in developing countries (remind you of European language takeovers in Africa and Asia?).

Let’s analyze the word “foreign”.   (Merriam-Webster definition) I like definitions 2 ( born in, belonging to, or characteristic of some place or country other than the one under consideration ), 3 (of, relating to, or proceeding from some other person or material thing than the one under consideration) and 5 (related to or dealing with other nations). The funny thing I come to think of is how foreign we deaf people are to the majority. Therefore should we not be considered foreign within our own country?  We are a nation within a nation, like the Native Americans.

So despite American Sign Language being a natural American language, it remains a foreign one to the population of English-speaking Americans. ASL should be treated as a foreign language. Not only because of the sense of foreignness, but because the Deaf community is also foreign to the majority (our history, arts and literature, jokes, education and culture).

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