Sign of the Times

In the world of interpretation there is one special language–highly requested language–that stands apart from the rest: it has no written words, and it is never spoken. So what is this mystery language that has no written alphabet and is never spoken? The language is ASL or American Sign Language and is utilized by many of the world’s hearing impaired communities.

ASL came about largely due to the efforts of Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D., who opened the first permanent institution for the hearing impaired, American Asylum for Deaf-Mutes (now known as the American School for the Deaf). It was there that attempts to reach out to the hearing impaired community were fashioned into what we now know as American Sign Language.

Sign language, in the western world, gets its roots from France, from what we call Old French Sign Language; although many American settlers witnessed the use of similar “signing” techniques in the indigenous communities of the Plains Indians, it didn’t influence the European settlers version of the same idea. Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, LL.D., at his institution, is credited with crafting American Sign Language into what it is today—the most widely-spoken version of sign language in the world.

ASL, though now the most commonly-used version of sign language in the world—including the non-English speaking sector of the world—is a prominent and respected language now, but this has not always been the case. During the latter half of the 1800’s, debates within and around the “deaf” community sparked concern on whether or not signing should be used. Manualists (pro-sign language) and Oralists (anti-sign language) debated on whether or not the hearing impaired community should continue to sign, or assimilate into mainstream society by learning to lip read and vocalize. It was not until William Stokoe, a respected college English Professor at Gallaudet University, studied, analyzed, and dissected ASL; and through rigorous articles and documentation, legitimized the language for the world in 1955, over one hundred years after its incarnation.

Today American Sign Language interpreters offer services in a varieties of fields, catering to each and every need of the hearing impaired community—job interviews, funerals, weddings, legal matters, school classes, and Vegas shows are just some of the various times when ASL interpreters are utilized to facilitate communication with the hearing impaired.

Sign language, since it is not spoken, is in a class unto itself. The interpreters train rigorously, and must keep their hands and arms well-rested and toned in order to keep their performance sharp, and their muscles agile. Sign language interpreters often work in pairs to allow for frequent breaks so they do not develop carpel tunnel syndrome or other, various hand cramps, muscle spasms, etc. Sign language interpreters are also, often very visible and recognizable within their local hearing impaired community, and have a special notoriety and reverence given to them for their work.

To say that American Sign Language is unique and special in relation to the other languages provided by American Language Services, is an understatement—it is a necessity to help a community of people live and function in the mainstream world. No other language is so unique; and as languages come and go in the modern world, one language is sure to stand the test of time—of the times—American Sign Language.

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