Ideological Barriers to American Sign Language: Unpacking Linguistic Resistance


Although there have been significant advances in the status and use of ASL in the United States, there also have often been backlashes to such developments. The latter have typically been manifested in controversies over beliefs about the nature of ASL as a "real" or an "appropriate" language for study. This has been the case, for instance, in four particular areas: efforts to achieve official recognition of ASL, early identification of hearing impairment and ASL, the rise of ASL-English bilingual/bicultural education programs, and the teaching of ASL as a foreign language in educational institutions. In this article, the debate over the status of ASL is addressed as an example of ideological beliefs that impact linguistic judgments and policies. Also discussed are the major challenges to the status of ASL with respect to formal legislative recognition, its use as a medium of instruction, and its designation as a legitimate foreign language, all of which are both empirically and conceptually problematic. Further, it is suggested that the resistance to ASL is grounded in large part in a misunderstanding of the nature of human language and of the nature, structure, and history of natural sign languages in general and ASL in particular.