There are several different kinds of sign languages used in the United States (in the world, too, for that matter). Let’s now go over the different systems so that you have a better idea of what they are.
AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE (ASL, also termed AMESLAN by the late Lou Fant) uses signs, gestures, specific facial expressions, non-manual movements, and the like to express feelings, ideas, and concepts visually. It uses no voice, but does have facial grammar (non-manual markers, mouth morphemes). It uses a completely different grammar system and sentence structure as that of spoken English. The rules of grammar, which will be discussed in a different section of this site, are clear and developed.
SEEING ESSENTIAL ENGLISH (SEE 1) and SIGNED EXACT ENGLISH (SEE II) -- The ideas behind these systems is that Deaf children will learn English better if they are exposed, visually through signs, to the grammatical features of English. The base signs are borrowed from ASL, but the various inflections are not used. A lot of initialization is used. Additionally, a lot of “grammatical markers” for numbers, person, tense, etc., are added, and strict English word order is used. Every prefix, suffix, article, conjunction, auxiliary verb, etc., is signed. Also, English homophones are represented by identical signs (i.e. the same sign is used for the noun fish and the verb fish, which have different ASL signs). The difference between the two is minor--the principle one being that in SEE II, ASL signs for compound words (like butterfly) are used, where the two signs representing the separate English words are used in SEE I (To sign “butterfly,” you would sign BUTTER and FLY, which gives a bizarre visual to the deaf child!).
LINGUISTICS OF VISUAL ENGLISH -- (L.O.V.E.) Developed by Dennis Wampler. It has similarities to SEE II and Signed English. It is a signing system rather than language on its own. Therefore some people claim that exposure to L.O.V.E. does not provide children with the complete linguistic access that is needed to internalize whole language.
SIGNED ENGLISH - Developed by Harry Bornstein. Similar to SEE I and SEE II, but a little simpler. It uses English word order, but fewer grammatical markers than the SEE systems--it has fourteen, based on Brown’s fourteen grammatical morphemes (e.g., plural /s/, possessive /s/, /ed/, /ly/, /er/, and so on).
The problem with the English-based systems above are that they are very slow. They are easier to learn for hearing people than ASL, but they are slower to use, because, on average, signs take twice as long as words to produce. So the average proposition takes twice as long to express. Also, you have to be grammatically very self-aware to use them. The research shows that most parents and many teachers who are trying to use these systems, end up leaving out many of the grammatical markers and that many children exposed to them end up modifying them to more ASL-like forms.
CONTACT SIGN (Formerly called PIDGIN SIGN ENGLISH or PSE) - Ranges on a continuum, from being more “Englishy” to being more like ASL. It is what happens when adults try to learn ASL, in many situations. It is ASL and some of its grammar (how much English versus how much ASL varies from signer to signer) in English word order. Children exposed to CSL will often produce grammatically perfect ASL.
AMELISH -- Term coined by Bernard Bragg. Uses lots of ASL and fingerspelling in English word order.
CONCEPTUALLY ACCURATE SIGNED ENGLISH -- (C.A.S.E.) A signing system rather than a language on its own. Similar to “Englishy” PSE / Contact Sign.
MANUALLY CODED ENGLISH -- (M.C.E.) Not a particular method, but a general description of all the systems that attempt to reflect English grammar, etc., on the hands.
ROCHESTER METHOD -- Every word is fingerspelled except "AND."