American Sign Language, commonly abbreviated ASL, is the native and natural language of individuals living in the United States who are Deaf. ASL finds its parentage in primarily two distinct sources; signs that were used communicatively within smaller communities of people in the 16th through 19th Centuries in the Colonies and States of the U.S., and the strong influence of Old French Sign Language which was introduced in the mid 19th Century. As with any creole, over a matter of just a couple of generations, the language became standardized amongst users and now serves as the only truly accessible form of communication amongst people who are Deaf.
Throughout human history great philosophers, thinkers, and educators have equated deafness with defect, thereby believing the visual communication of ASL was completely inferior to spoken language. There was finally pushback to this notion in the 1960’s when William Stokoe, a linguist, published his findings on ASL. Through study he learned that as any other language, ASL possesses a Phonology, Morphology, and a standardized Syntactic Construction. Additionally, Stokoe observed that ASL can be studied at a Semantic Level and a Socio/Cultural-Linguistic level.
Today, professionals fluent in ASL are needed in virtually all fields. There are deaf doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors- the list goes on and on. Learning ASL and gaining fluency in it provides you greater breadth in working with a diverse population in the United States. But just in case you are looking for an international experience, do not fear. Fluency in ASL will allow you to communicate with deaf people in Canada, France, many countries in Africa, Jamaica, Philippines, Guam, and many other places where the root language for deaf citizens is ASL. There is also a great need for teachers who specialize in education for the deaf, as well as interpreters who facilitate communication in all walks of life.
The student learning outcomes identified here are based on the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project). This document, a collaborative effort of nine national foreign language organizations, establishes a context that defines the central role of foreign language in the learning of every student. The standards, as well as our program outcomes and individual course objectives, suggest a paradigm shift in foreign language education that focuses on students’ ability to use the language in authentic situations.