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History of ASL

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

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Reasons it took so long:

  •  "…primarily due to the sociology of language and the solid knowledge of language structures come from the groups that know and use a common language in interaction.  Through careful questioning linguists discover which signs and which sentence structures are in a particular language. Many signers accept almost any attempt at signing because of the deference of hearing people and this double standard hampers the study of sign as a language in its own right...," stated by William Stokoe (Baker and Battison, 1980, 29).
  • Deaf Culture's Reactions
  • Hearing people's feelings toward ASL (Baker and Battison, 1980).


Deaf Culture's Reactions

  •       Resentment and anger towards William Stokoe studying American Sign Language because he did not have a hearing loss (Baker and Battison, 1980).
    • An example of these feelings was illustrated in an article, called “Is Gallaudet losing its Power of Sign Language?”, published in the Gallaudet University newspaper by Bert Shaposka, a student (Baker & Battison, 1980). 
  •      Confusion
    • Prior to the publication of Stokoe’s findings, the language was termed “a language of signs” and “signs.”  The public viewed ASL as “inferior” to Standard American English and coined their signs as “sloppy English” because they felt it lacked grammar (Padden and Humphries, 2005).  These views were persistent and consistent with the rest of the world’s view of Deafness.  The terms “American Sign Language” and “Deaf culture” were new to the community.  Because of consistent discrimination and response from the public, many individuals did not accept this new concept.  The Deaf community used terms such as “cherish” to describe their feelings about their chosen method of communication, but at the same time many felt, that his findings were invalid (Padden and Humphries, 2005).  This view is surprising considering the Deaf culture’s reaction to the film “Preservation of Sign Language” created prior to Stokoe’s research.  A famous line by George Verditz has been recited throughout the Deaf community, “we will love and guard our beautiful sign language as the noblest gift God has given to the Deaf people” (Padden and Humphries, 75).  However, after all this time and these feelings, they still had problems recognizing their language as good enough to be considered a language (Padden and Humphries, 2005).         

Hearing Community and American Sign Language

  •      Linguists and faculty of Gallaudet University who used ASL labeled Stokoe’s research as crazy because the concept of being able to analyze American Sign Language was thought impossible (Baker & Battison, 1980). 
  •  The view that American Sign Languae was nonstandard because it is a pidginized version of English (Nash and Nash, 1981).
  • As recent as 2003, while knowledge and evidence indicate that ASL is its own language, society continues to view it as deficient due to lack of education (Baker and Battison, 1980). 

ASL Poems and Theatre

      Humphries and Padden point out vividly in their book, Inside the Deaf Culture, how ASL poetry and theatre aided the Deaf community in handling the new terms, American Sign Language and Deaf culture (Humphries & Padden, 2005). One poet named Dorothy Miles was famous for creating a genre of ASL poetry that expressed feelings and emotions.  It also renewed the Deaf community’s faith in ASL and provided an understanding how powerful their language was.  Deaf Clubs and Gallaudet University staged full plays in American Sign Language, outside of the hearing community (Padden and Humphries, 2005).  Then, changes occurred and ASL was recognized by a member of the Hearing community who felt that American Sign Language on stage would be a success in theatre.  Theatre and poetry helped to move the Deaf community from confusion, anger, and resentment over Stokoe’s research to acceptance (Padden and Humphries, 2005). 

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