What variations/dialects exist in American Sign Language?
- Example seen in Deaf African Americans
Variations Among The Deaf African American Community
The African American signing community has been the focus of researchers during recent years (Lucas, et al. 2001).
Studies have shown
differences in the
body, movement, mouth movement, and the use of space in signing by African American signers (Lucas, et al. 2001).
that ASL users identified
a “black signing” but could not explain what made it “black.”
that there exists uniquely
black or “ebonic” movements and nonverbal features that occur in the communication in both hearing and Deaf African
that African American
signing differs remarkably from Caucasian signing in all areas of structure, not just lexically. (Lucas, et al., 2001).
African American signers
use the older two-handed variations of signs more than Caucasian signers of the same age (Lucas, et al., 2001).
Gender, Age, and Regional Variations
Variations are presented through changes in location, direction, and which
hand is involved in the presentation of a sign (Lucas, et al., 2001). A signer from New York and a signer from Florida
will show variations. Ethnic communities will not only show their ethnic variation
on the language but regional, gender, and age variations as well (Carroll, 2004). These
variations are thought to be a reflection of the residential schools role in facilitating ASL (Lucas, 2003 ). The generations of students at these schools are responsible for variations seen in ASL. Evidence shows that each generation added or created change in the language as a way of leaving a mark
on the school, and it shows in the graduates from these institutions (Lucas, Bayley, Rose, Wolfe, 2000).
Examples of Gender
Significance of Variations/Dialects to Society
How to teach a standard variation to students from linguistically
and culturally diverse backgrounds?
As an educator never represent dialects/
variations from the standard language as signs of linguistic and cognitive deficiences when teaching students from linguistically
and culturally diverse backgrounds. Included below are general guidelines that should be followed when teaching
standard English(Christian, 1997).
Note: The below guidelines are focused more for a spoken
language situation, but they can be modified to teach a student who is Deaf and from another dialet / variation.
- Lessons need to account for the students that they
- Students who are interested in participating in a certain social
group will make an effort to learn the group's language. A student who has no interest in associating with a certain
social group will not put the effort into learning the language.
- A lesson should include information about their own dialect,
as well as various dialects/variations that exist
- This allows teachers to demonstrate the integrity of all dialects.
It will help to clarify the relationship between standard and vernacular dialects. It will show the student practical
reasons for learning the standard dialect.
Educators and the companies responsible for developing materials
need to understand the differences between standard and vernacular dialects in order to help students learn standard
The goal of instruction should be to learn the standard variety
of the student's local community, and not some formal dialect of English that is not used in the community (Christian, 1997).
the future, as knowledge and recognition of these variations become commonly accepted within the Deaf community, interpreters
may be faced with code switching that contains variations not seen before. During
one of the studies, one of the African American signers was codeswitching continuously throughout the interview. It is believed that ongoing research about this variation will help educate future interpreters thereby
promoting success in their role as an interpreter (Lucas, et al. 2001).
Reasons for limitied resources
on this Topic
materials on these variations is limited due to the small scope of the Deaf community and the vast number of cultures it encompasses
(Lucas, et al., 2001). In addition, the methods of research deployed have been
deficient. One explanation as to why the Caucasian signers of the Deaf community
have limited knowledge of “Black signing” is that it is hidden from them and the rest of the world (Lucas, et
al.. 2001). The African American Deaf community has kept their language to themselves due to discrimination from society due
to skin color and their racial variations in communication. This parallels what
occurs between African Americans and Caucasians in the Hearing population (Lucas, et al., 2001).