American Sign Language is a rich language of gestures and hand symbols. Each gesture represents either a concept, a word or a letter. In those cases where a gesture doesn't exist for a particular idea, a word can be spelled out, letter by letter, using finger spelling. Want to learn some sign language? Better than a printed book, the following sites use animation and movies to illustrate the many subtleties of signing.
This comprehensive online dictionary of letters and words was created by the Communications Technology Laboratory of Michigan State University. Each word is illustrated with a QuickTime movie, which is both good news and bad news. The good news is the movie captures the entire upper body of the signer, and repeating the word is a simple mouse click on the play button. Unfortunately, these QuickTime movie files are large, making them slow to load.
Cindy (no last name provided) is an educational sign language interpreter in Florida. In her well-organized site, she discusses American Sign Language (ASL), interpreting, and introduces Deaf (capital "D") Culture versus the mainstream definition of deafness (small "d") as a disability. "Because there is a deaf community with its own language and Culture, there is a cultural frame in which to be deaf is not to be disabled. Quite the contrary, it is as we have seen an asset in Deaf Culture to be deaf in behavior, values, knowledge, and fluency in ASL. Deafness is not a disability but rather a different way of being."
Why learn sign language? "You can sign with your mouth full." "You can talk and talk as much as you like in a library." "You can be sure that nobody can overhear through doors." "Sign language is beautiful, unique and graceful." In addition to covering various aspects of Deaf Culture (including stories, artwork, and history), Handspeak has a dictionary of sign language words illustrated with animated photos. The dictionary is organized both alphabetically and by categories such as Animals, Colors and Sports.
"In 1971, Francine 'Penny' Patterson was a psychology graduate student at Stanford University in California. Koko was a newborn gorilla struggling for life at the San Francisco Zoo. In those early days, Patterson was intent on finding out whether Koko could learn American Sign Language, a complex set of gestures pioneered by the deaf. The gorilla proved an able pupil. Her vocabulary quickly grew to dozens of signs -- some customized into a dialect Patterson dubbed Gorilla Sign Language. Soon, news of the 'talking gorilla' was making worldwide headlines"