ASL is an American Sign Language language, which is a natural language that serves as the primary and predominant language that is used and was developed for Deaf communities in areas such as the majority of the United States, and parts of Anglophonic Canada. ASL is an organized language that uses visual representations, mainly through forms and gestures involving the hands and arms, to communicate thoughts and ideas. Outside of North America, the dialects of the ASL languages, and any other ASL-based languages are used in many other countries around the world. This is evidenced by the languages developed in West Africa and Southeast Asia, which have adopted American Sign Language for deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
Apart from being the primary language used in these conversations, ASL is also a second language in many countries throughout the world. Notably, the French sign language is most closely related to the ASL Creole language. It is commonly thought that the language itself is only spoken through the use of gestures, but has many other non-manual movements, such as the face and torso. Sometimes, ASL can express more complicated topics through pantomiming phrases and individual letters, making this a complete language.
ASL originated in the early 19th century. It was developed by the American School for the Deaf, which is located in West Hartford, Connecticut. It was born out of necessity and from a situation of language contact. Since its inception, ASL has been adopted and propagated widely by schools for the deaf, and throughout the deaf community. Many learn ASL as a second language to be able to communicate with friends and family that are hard of hearing, especially those who were born without the ability to hear since they were infants or from the womb. It is especially difficult to communicate with these individuals without sign language, as they have never heard any auditory language in their life, including English or the pronunciation of these words.
Despite the fact that ASL has been used, and is still widespread, there is no actual account of how many people can communicate with this language. There are some estimates that American ASL users can range from a quarter million to a half million people, which notably includes many children who need to learn this language as their primary form of communication.
ASL is not a form of pantomime, but the similarities are striking, especially for those who do not speak the language. Iconicity is a large part of ASL and over-exaggeration and expression make communication much easier in groups. English loan words are difficult concepts to introduce into a language that does not have any vocal intonations, so they are often spelled out through finger spelling, which is the ASL "grammar" alphabet that is completely unrelated to English. This makes sure that although the idea should be communicated, it ensures efficiency through the delivery of these methods.