History Through Deaf Eyes – A Language Recognized

Linguists, who had previously ignored the sign languages of the world, began to demonstrate that they were natural languages equally capable of communicating abstract thought, emotion, and complex information as spoken languages. The result was that American Sign Language, American Sign Language (ASL), was recognized as the foundation of a visually oriented Deaf community.

Forty Years after the language gained academic recognition, schools have accepted sign language in the classroom; public events commonly include sign language interpreters; television and movie producers cast deaf actors; publishers welcome scholarly and popular books and articles on signing and Deaf Culture; students flock to sign language courses; and schools employ more deaf teachers, principals, and superintendents. For some deaf people, the most dramatic change is new pride in using their language in public.

A headshot of William Stokoe

In 1960 William Stokoe’s Grammar of Sign Language challenged widely held perceptions about the visual language used by the Deaf community. Scientists welcomed the book’s evidence of a new and unstudied language, but many educators of deaf students continued to denounce it and all sign language research. It would take 20 more years before Stokoe’s work would reverse common misunderstandings about ASL.

Gallaudet University Archives

In 1965, A Dictionary of American Sign Language described signs of the language and led others to study deaf people’s sign language around the world. Symbols were used to identify placement, handshape, and movement of signs.

Number three handshape sideways as if it depicts a vehicle.