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What is ASL?

American Sign Language (ASL) is the fourth most-studied foreign language on U.S. college campuses. ASL is a visual language that involves the precise use of the hands, body, and facial expression to convey linguistic information. It has its own grammar and syntax rules. ASL is not a universal language, but is used by many deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the United States and parts of Canada.

Deaf people in the U.S. have used sign language to communicate ever since there were deaf people in this country. American Sign Language began to be standardized in 1817 when the American School for the Deaf opened in Connecticut. Graduates of the school who moved to other states took ASL with them, expanding its use to other communities.

At RIT, interest in studying ASL has exploded in the past few years. Members of the RIT community can study ASL for foreign language credit as well as informally through classes and programs for students, faculty, and staff.

For additional information on the history of ASL, see History of ASL