MSS 189

Stokoe, William Clarence, 1919-2000

The William C. Stokoe Papers, 1946-1992

Gallaudet University Archives

Descriptive Summary

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.

Administrative Information

Acquisition Information: Donated to the Gallaudet University Archives by Dr. William C. Stokoe, 1991.

Processed By: Christopher Shea, March 2013.

Processing Note:

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:


  • Papers of William C. Stokoe, 1948-1982. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: MSS 44
  • Collection, Linguistics Research Laboratory, 1954-1984. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Record Group 1


  • Quiet champion, part 1 [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Film 15-2
  • Quiet champion, part 2 [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Film 30-2
  • 112th Commencement [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Film 63-8
  • 60 Minutes: language of the deaf [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Film 9-8
  • Salk Institute film on sign language [motion picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Film 19-4


  • Stokoe, William C. [picture]. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Portraits

Vertical File

  • Stokoe, William C. Gallaudet University Archives, call number: Deaf Biography


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 Descriptions

Series 1: Notebooks, 1961-1983

Box 1

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

Boxes 1-3

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.
Arranged chronologically.

Series 3: Reprint articles and reviews, 1952-1983

Boxes 3-4

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

Box 4

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

Boxes 4-6

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

Boxes 6-7

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

Box 7

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

Boxes 7-9

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

Box 10

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.

Folder Listing

Box Folder Title Date(s)
1 1 Laboratory notebook 1982-1983
1 2 Laboratory notebook 1972-1974
1 3 Laboratory notebook 1974-1979
1 4 Laboratory notebook 1978
1 5 Laboratory notebook 1961-1970
1 6 Notes for Humanities 102 1962-1963
1 7 Academic papers and lectures 1960-1966
2 1 Academic papers and lectures 1967-1971
2 2 Academic papers and lectures 1972
2 3 Academic papers and lectures 1973
2 4 Academic papers and lectures 1973-1975
2 5 Academic papers and lectures 1975
2 6 Academic papers and lectures 1976-1977
3 1 Academic papers and lectures 1978
3 2 Academic papers and lectures 1979
3 3 Academic papers and lectures 1980
3 4 Academic papers and lectures 1980-1981
3 5 Academic papers and lectures 1981-1982
3 6 Academic papers and lectures 1982-1983
3 7 Reprint articles 1975-1983
4 1 Reprint articles 1952-1982
4 2 Reprint reviews and other articles 1964-1983
4 3 The Calculus of Structure 1960
4 4 Correspondence and Q&A for sign language presentation at Madonna University 1991
4 5 Hearing and Speech News 1974
4 6 Linguistics Research Laboratory grant proposal 1971
4 7 Notes and drafts 1987-1988
4 8 Research articles and draft Undated
4 9 Sign Language Diglossia 1970
4 10 The Study of Sign Language 1971
4 11 Unfinished draft article on Stokoe’s experiences at Gallaudet 1986
4 12 Professional activity correspondence and calendars 1959-1972
4 13 Professional activity record and paper 1971-1972
5 1 Professional activity correspondence and journal 1972-1973
5 2 Professional activity correspondence and calendars 1974-1975
5 3 Professional activity correspondence and calendars 1975-1976
5 4 Professional activity correspondence and calendars 1977-1978
5 5 Professional activity correspondence and calendar 1980-1981
5 6 Professional activity trip report 1983
5 7 Article and correspondence for The Semiotic Web 1990
5 8 Articles and lectures 1971-1992
6 1 Correspondence and paper for AAA Symposium 1974
6 2 Correspondence and texts of reviews 1978-1988
6 3 Correspondence on printing of Sign Language Studies 1972-1975
6 4 Keynote lecture for Sign Language Research Symposium 1988
6 5 Lectures and articles 1979-1986
6 6 Prefaces 1978
6 7 Program and correspondence for 3rd International Symposium on Sign Language Research 1982-1983
6 8 Quarterly reports and notes from Language Research Laboratory 1983-1984
6 9 ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force mission statement and minutes 1990-1992
6 10 ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force minutes and notes 1992
6 11 ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force minutes and correspondence 1990-1992

7 1 ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force position statements and correspondence 1992
7 2 ASL/Deaf Studies Task Force final report and correspondence 1991-1992
7 3 Cornell Alumni News 1979-1988
7 4 Cornell University thesis abstracts 1947
7 5 Research at Gallaudet newsletter 1988-1991
7 6 Saint Andrew’s Society letter and press release 1969-1971
7 7 Virginia Scottish Games Association letter 1976
7 8 Washington City Paper 1992
7 9 Washington University Magazine 1976
7 10 Adam Kendon manuscript on New Guinea sign language 1978
8 1 Advance proofs of Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness 1987
8 2 Advance proofs of Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness 1987
8 3 Advance proofs of Gallaudet Encyclopedia of Deaf People and Deafness 1987
8 4 Charlotte Baker Ph.D. dissertation 1975-1978
8 5 Charlotte Baker Ph.D. dissertation 1975-1978
9 1 Conference highlights from sociology of deafness conference 1982
9 2 Gallaudet president’s report 1990
9 3 Gallaudet Research Institute monograph on dialogue journals 1990
9 4 Gallaudet Research Institute papers 1989-1990
9 5 Gallaudet Today 1992
9 6 Harlan Lane bibliography Undated
9 7 Language Planning newsletter 1977
9 8 Linguistics catalog 1983
9 9 Sherman Wilcox readings on deaf culture 1985
9 10 Signpost newsletter 1992
9 11 Working paper for sociology of deafness conference 1982
10 Vari-Typer type element for Stokoe notation Undated

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