American Sign Language---query

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Wed Apr 13 15:05:48 UTC 2005

At 5:52 AM -0700 4/13/05, James Smith wrote:
>This discussion revives a question I've had for a
>number of years.  Why is it called American Sign
>Language - why is it tied to American culture and
>language?  It seems to me a true sign language would
>transcend cultural boundaries and be independent of
>spoken or written language.

The way true spoken languages or writing systems transcend cultural
boundaries?  Why would one assume this?  Is Esperanto a truer spoken
language than English or Japanese?  I don't follow the logic here.

>Can ASL be used to
>communicate in other lands,

Well, to those signers in other lands who know ASL.

>  even other English
>speaking lands,

not even there; ASL, to my knowledge, is not used in England, and is
in fact closer to French Sign Language than to British Sign Language.

>  or does each country or culture "X"
>have its own "X"SL?

Not each one, but there are a number of different sign languages.

I'm not sure this is really the best site for discussing these
issues, unless there's someone here who has done research on ASL or
other sign languages, or teaches courses on the topic, or is himself
or herself a signer; as Ben mentioned, there's been a LOT on this
over at Linguist List, and it's not that hard to get more information
at various web sites.  I just googled up this one, which addresses
some of the questions that have arisen here:, maintained by Karen Nakamura,
which touches on the international issue.  For many more links, see

Larry Horn

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