Abstract

Abstract:

Recent research has shown that a distinct variety of American Sign Language, known as Black ASL, developed in the segregated schools for deaf African Americans in the US South during the pre-civil rights era. Research has also shown that in some respects Black ASL is closer than most white varieties to the standard taught in ASL classes and found in ASL dictionaries. This article explores the circumstances that resulted in the creation of a distinct ASL variety, with attention to the role of language in education policy in both the white and Black Southern schools for the deaf. Archival research shows that while white deaf students were long subjected to oral instruction and forbidden to sign in class, Black students, although their severely underfunded schools provided only basic vocational education, continued to receive their education in ASL, with classes often taught by deaf teachers. The differences in language education policy explain the difficulties Black students experienced in understanding their teachers and white classmates after integration occurred, despite great resistance, in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the fact that Black signers from the South, particularly older Black signers, are more likely than their white counterparts to use traditional features.

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