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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure
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Figure 1.2. Main topics addressed in this study.

Much of the prior work on Black ASL was undertaken some years ago. Most of the more recent work has focused on the signing of single individuals or small groups, often in interview situations, which may influence how the participants sign. While building on these earlier studies, the project described in this book provides a more comprehensive description of Black ASL based on a broader sampling of southern Black Deaf communities. By including a broad sample of Black men and women of different ages who live in a range of communities, this volume documents an important aspect of Deaf culture and illustrates a little-studied aspect of the African American experience.

To answer our research questions and to provide a full account of the history and structure of Black ASL, we have taken three major areas into account, as seen in figure 1.2.

We looked, of course, at the sociohistorical foundation: the history of education for Black deaf children and the social conditions that would make the emergence of a variety of ASL possible. We also conducted basic sociolinguistic analyses of eight specific linguistic features to understand what the variety looks like structurally. However, we also took into account our participants’ perceptions of education and language. We found a number of recurring themes emerging both from the free conversations and the interviews. The picture would not be complete without these, as they relate directly to the sociohistorical foundation; in addition, their perceptions are both similar to and different from the linguistic findings.

Finally, a word about the title of this book and the DVD, The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL. When we started the project, we knew that it would be interesting, but we did not realize how very rich all aspects of it would be—the history of education for Black deaf children in the United States, the perceptions and memories of community members, and the results of our linguistic analyses. We were constantly amazed at what we found, and we realized that this is a story that has not yet received a full telling by any means. We often felt that we were discovering hidden treasures. This is what we offer now, with the strong hope that others will want to continue exploring all aspects of this story.

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