Gallaudet University Press

13:6 Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Don't All Sign the Same Language

A New Study Corroborates a Distinct Variety of American Sign Language

Sign language is not universal. Just as there are various dialects of spoken English, there also various dialects of signed languages. One variety of American Sign Language (ASL), Black ASL, has been recognized for years as a distinct form of sign language, but only through anecdotal reports. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure, authored by Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, Robert Bayley, and Joseph Hill, along with its accompanying DVD present the first empirical study that verifies Black ASL as a distinct form of ASL, including information on its antecedents.

Dr. Glenn B. Anderson, Department of Counseling, Adult and Rehabilitation Education at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and former chair of the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees notes, “The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL is the first and most comprehensive study of Black ASL undertaken since Bill Stokoe’s colleague Carl Croneberg stated nearly fifty years ago that ‘a study of ASL dialects of the Negro deaf will constitute an important part of the full-scale sign language dialect study’ (1965, 315). I enthusiastically welcome The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL because it paves the way for a deeper understanding and appreciation of what many in both the Black and White Deaf communities have talked about anecdotally as ‘a Black way of signing used by Black deaf people in their own cultural milieu.’ The book and companion DVD also offer a conceptual framework and road map to help inspire and foster further research and scholarship on Black ASL.”

Read the “Introduction,” and use your exclusive subscriber discount of 20% off when you order The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL. For online orders, type “JUN2011” in the box labeled “use promo code” next to the checkout button. You may also order by mail.

“A constellation of anatomical and social peculiarities distinguish human beings from other mammals,” states David F. Armstrong, author of Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language. “These anatomical attributes include upright posture with a striding bipedal gait; relative hairlessness; a brain that is large in comparison to the size of the rest of the body; aspects of the dentition and the anatomy of the jaw and throat; and, most significantly for purposes of this book, an exceptionally dexterous hand with full opposability of the thumb to the other digits. It is particularly instructive to look at these anatomical peculiarities in comparison with similar attributes of our closest living relatives, the higher primates—in particular the great apes of Africa.”

In Show of Hands, Armstrong casts a wide net in history and geography to explain how sign languages have enriched human culture in general and how their study has expanded knowledge of the human condition, from early human anatomy to the ubiquitous benefits of “Deaf Gain.” Read more about this engrossing survey in chapter one, “Seeing is Believing,” and order Show of Hands now for a 20% savings off the regular price. Order by mail or online. When ordering online, type “JUN2011” in the box labeled “use promo code” next to the checkout button.

In Reflections: My Life in the Deaf and Hearing Worlds, John B. Christiansen writes of growing up hard of hearing, his decision to get a cochlear implant, and his perspective on the 2006 protest at Gallaudet University. Reference and Research Book News printed the following review of Christiansen’s memoir: “Christiansen presents his inspiring memoir as a hearing-impaired individual struggling in a society of the hearing. Early on in life Christensen developed hearing impairment and suffered from the communication difficulties and relative isolation that goes along with it. When he became a faculty member at Gallaudet University, he began to learn sign language and to live and communicate more comfortably in two different communities. This memoir will appeal to those dealing with or interested in hearing impairment issues.” Read a portion of part one here, and order Reflections today.

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