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ASL Standardization?

Linguistics and Dialects of American Sign Language

Home | Introduction | Vocabulary | Evidence of Misdiagnosis | Identifying a Disorder in Student's from a Linguistically Diverse Background | Deaf Culture | History of ASL | ASL Timeline | Variations/Dialects in ASL | ASL:standardization? | Standardization | Bibliography

Reasons that ASL and other sign languages are not standardized:

  • Sign Languages around the world lack an accepted written format of their language.

  • Sign Languages exist as a minority in communities where spoken languages that have a literate component make up the majority.
  • Sign languages have a "discontinuous nature of transmission" at the generational level.
  • The degree of variation and competence in sign languages across their signing communities effects their ability to become standardized.
  • Sign Languages lack a widely known and valued variety of language amongst their signing communities.
  • They also lack of the use of the language as a language of instruction for educating the children who are Deaf and hard of hearing (Johnston, 2003).

Standardization can occur if

  • sign language is used for the purpose of instruction in an educational setting.
    • Dictionaries may play a part in the process, if this condition is met.
  • an accepted written format of sign language is created.
    •  A possible written system has been created and it can provide sign languages a written format to defend this argument, as well as to give more evidence of their legitimacy.  The system is known as SignWriting. It was created in 1974, by Valerie Sutten, and has its own website ( which can provide information to anyone interested in learning this new system (Collins, 1997) . Nevertheless, it has not been accepted and used in the Deaf communities.
  • there is a widely known and valued variety of language amongst its signing communities.
    • One known exception in the United States: "Gallaudet/NTID ASL" which is used at Gallaudet University. It's valued because of its existence in higher education and is used by the graduates of Gallaudet in their professional lives (Johnston, 2003). However, it does not necessarily reflect most local communities. 
  • sign language is used as a means of educating the children who are d/Deaf.
    •  Recently a small number of bilingual and bicultural programs have appeared throughout the United States (Johnston, 2003).  These programs are similar to the ESL programs where the belief exists in teaching English and other subjects in the student’s own language.  Currently the number of programs available to the public is small and many question the degree of proficiency of language for instruction in these institutions (Johnston, 2003).
  • an interactive Internet-database for sign languages was developed.
    • Johnston has thought of a possible interactive Internet-database that would show variations that exist among a sign language community.  Here members of a community can register as a user of this electronic database (Johnston, 2003). This database allows a user to reflect on the posted variations, comment or add new variations to the current database.  Success of this type of technology would require financial support, as well as individuals willing to invest time in this project.

Date Created: May 15, 2006 Time: 10:52 pm
Date Modified: June 8, 2006