As part of the Languages of the World course, we invite native speakers or signers to give a presentation about the language we are discussing during a given week. The structure of the course includes an introductory lecture by the instructor on the first day in the week, and a presentation by a guest lecturer on the second. Some guests are linguists or language teachers, others are native speakers/signers of the language who work in other fields. Inviting presenters to talk about their native language, including its sociocultural context, offers the students a comprehensive perspective on the languages we focus on in the course, on their history, and on the parts of the world where they are spoken.
American Sign Language
The Linguistics of American Sign Language
The lecture provided the overview of the linguistic, social, and historical aspects of American Sign Language (ASL), which the origin of ASL was dated back to 1817 at a school for the deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. ASL arose from the mixture of language and communication systems that teachers and students had brought to school: an older form of French Sign Language (LSF), sign language from Martha’s Vineyard island with the significant amount of deaf and hard of hearing population, and homemade signs that hearing families used with deaf children. ASL was not formally recognized as a language until 1960s when William Stokoe and his deaf colleagues published a dictionary with the phonological description of ASL signs. In the following decades, an increasing number of research studies uncovered (and are still uncovering) the linguistic nature of ASL which is like all languages of the world: it has linguistic properties that allows ASL to function the same way as any language.