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May 24, 2023
Manuscripts – The William C. Stokoe Papers, 1946-1992
King Jordan Student Academic Center 1255
Stokoe, William Clarence, 1919-2000
The William C. Stokoe Papers, 1946-1992
Gallaudet University Archives
Repository: Gallaudet University Archives
Call No.: MSS 189
Title: The William C. Stokoe Papers, 1946-1992
Quantity: 5 linear feet (9 document boxes, 1 artifact box)
Abstract: This collection consists of academic papers, articles, correspondence, booklets, minutes, reports, calendars, magazines, newspapers and newsletters, and journal reprint articles.
Note: This document originally written March 2013.
Acquisition Information: Donated to the Gallaudet University Archives by Dr. William C. Stokoe, 1991.
Processed By: Christopher Shea, March 2013.
Conditions on Use and Access: This collection is open to the public with no restrictions. Photocopies may be made for scholarly research.
Related Material in the Archives:
Born in New Hampshire in 1919, Dr. Stokoe attended Cornell University, earning his Ph.D. in English with a focus on medieval literature in 1946. He taught English at Wells College in upstate New York for several years. In 1955, Dean George Detmold convinced him to come to Gallaudet and become chairman of the English department. At this new position, Dr. Stokoe became intrigued by the structure and vocabulary of American Sign Language (ASL), which most linguists at that time believed was only a degenerate imitation of English. Dr. Stokoe created a field he called cheremics, the signed
equivalent of phonetics.
In 1960, he invented a system called Stokoe notation for rendering signs in print by identifying their handshape, position, and motion, and also published his first major work on ASL, Sign Language Structure: An Outline of the Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf. With his colleagues Dorothy Casterline and Carl Croneberg, Dr. Stokoe wrote the first dictionary of ASL, which was published in 1965. These works helped pave the way for the acceptance of ASL as a language in its own right.
In 1968, Dr. Stokoe left the English department chairmanship to join the Linguistics Department, focusing full-time on linguistics and ASL. In 1972, he founded Gallaudet’s Language Research Laboratory and became its director, as well as his creating own imprint, Linstok Press, which published a journal called Sign Language Studies. Dr. Stokoe wrote, lectured, and taught extensively on sign language, linguistics, and deaf culture until his retirement in 1984. The Language Research Laboratory was closed after Dr. Stokoe retired, and Linstok Press ceased publishing in 1996.
In 1988, Gallaudet awarded Dr. Stokoe an honorary doctorate for his work in linguistics, and he was similarly honored by Michigan’s Madonna University and the University of Copenhagen.
Dr. Stokoe passed away in 2000.
Scope and Content
The papers that make up this collection are drawn almost entirely from Dr. Stokoe’s professional life; there is very little personal material.
The collection includes an extensive selection of Dr. Stokoe’s academic writing, including papers, lectures, articles, and reviews, although nothing related to his books. The bulk of this consists of two document boxes of papers Dr. Stokoe presented at academic events. The collection also includes some of his notebooks from work at the Linguistics Research Laboratory, reprint copies of published articles and reviews, and some drafts and unfinished articles.
Another large segment of this collection is given over to Dr. Stokoe’s professional files, including correspondence, information on symposia he attended, desk calendar pages, and activity journals. There is also a collection of magazines, journals, papers, and other publications that Dr. Stokoe assembled, some because they included articles about himself and some because they were on subjects of interest to him.
Also included is extensive material from the ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force that Dr. Stokoe co-chaired after his retirement, including minutes, mission statement and final report, and some of Dr. Stokoe’s notes from meetings of the task force.
Series 1: Notebooks, 1961-1983
Laboratory notebooks used by Dr. Stokoe. Of particular interest is the 1961-1970 notebook, which includes notes on his system of Stokoe notation for writing ASL signs. Another notebook includes typed notes with some handwritten interpolations for a Humanities 102 course covering narrative. This includes discussions of the Iliad, Don Quixote, and The Brothers Karamazov. The information in other notebooks is more fragmentary, mostly dealing with Dr. Stokoe’s ASL research and academic life, including notes on his activities and ideas.
Series 2: Academic papers and lectures, 1960-1983
A collection of papers and lectures delivered by Dr. Stokoe at seminars, colloquiums, roundtables, and other academic events. Almost all papers in this collection are fair copies, with clean typed text, but some have additions or edits made by Dr. Stokoe in ink or pencil. Also included in this series is a small amount of correspondence regarding the events Dr. Stokoe attended, and programs and other materials from the events.
Series 3: Reprint articles and reviews, 1952-1983
Reprint copies of articles and book reviews written by Dr. Stokoe on the subjects of ASL, deaf culture, and linguistics and published in academic journals. Many of the articles are from Dr. Stokoe’s own journal, Sign Language Studies. Also included are some articles on medieval literature that Dr. Stokoe wrote in the 1950s before he came to Gallaudet.
Series 4: Other writings, 1960-1991
A collection of loose articles, drafts, research notes, booklets, and other items written by Dr. Stokoe. Includes copies of The Calculus of Structure, a booklet he wrote in 1960 to assist in teaching English structure to the deaf, as well as an unfinished article about his early experiences at Gallaudet and some questions and answers from a presentation on sign language he made at Michigan’s Madonna University.
Series 5: Professional files, 1959-1992
This series consists of Dr. Stokoe’s files on his academic career. About half the series is dedicated to his annual professional activity records, which include correspondence about events he attended, classes he taught, and articles he wrote. These files also include journals, curriculum vitae, and desk calendar sheets to track his activity. Also incorporated in this series are records of some symposia Dr. Stokoe attended, with correspondence and copies of the material he presented there; copies of some of his articles with correspondence about them; and draft copies of his articles and lectures.
Arranged by subject.
Series 6: ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force records, 1990-1992
From 1990 to 1992, Dr. Stokoe co-chaired a task force (along with Dr. Yerker Andersson) on creating a Deaf Studies unit and curriculum at Gallaudet. This series consists mostly of minutes from the task force’s meeting, along with its mission statement, final report, and statements from interested parties. Also included are some of Dr. Stokoe’s notes from the meetings and some correspondence.
Series 7: Publications about Dr. Stokoe, 1946-1992
This is a collection of magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and other material that contain articles, quotes, or photos about Dr. Stokoe. It includes issues of Cornell University’s alumni magazine, as well as a book of thesis abstracts published by Cornell that includes Dr. Stokoe’s Ph.D. thesis. Also included are some issues of the Research at Gallaudet newsletter, a press release from the St. Andrew’s Society of Washington (of which Dr. Stokoe was president), and an issue of Washington University Magazine with an article about James Stokoe.
Series 8: Manuscript collection, 1975-1992
This series is a collection of written materials that Dr. Stokoe collected during his career. It includes many items produced by his colleagues at Gallaudet, including the Ph.D. dissertation of Charlotte Baker, a collection of readings on deaf culture assembled by Sherman Wilcox, and an advance copy of John Van Cleve’s Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness. It also includes some papers produced by the Gallaudet Research Institute and some journals and catalogs related to deaf culture and linguistics.
Arranged by subject.
Series 10: Vari-Typer type element for Stokoe notation, undated
This item is a print head intended for use in a Vari-Typer, a typing and text layout machine in wide use until the manufacturer stopped making it in the 1970s. The print head bears the symbols used in Dr. Stokoe’s notation system, so it was presumably made specially for him. The case also contains a slip of paper with overlays for the Vari-Typer keys showing the various symbols.
Gallaudet University, chartered in 1864, is a private university for deaf and hard of hearing students.
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