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Linguistics of American Sign Language A Study of Select Signs Through the Times.

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1 Linguistics of American Sign Language A Study of Select Signs Through the Times

2 Introduction American Sign Language carries a rich history and culture only recently recognized by the hearing world. Once thought a crude conglomeration of animal-like gestures, it is finally receiving the recognition it deserves as a true language. Unfortunately, since this recognition is so new, there is little research or linguistic analysis of this beautiful language. This project is an attempt to demonstrate the living nature of American Sign Language through a study of its history and changes over time.

3 What Causes Change in ASL? Influences of Deaf Education Influence of Spoken Language (i.e. English) Influence of Signed Languages (ex. French Sign Language) Changes in technology Regional differences (accents) Personal preference

4 Examples of Change in a Sign Due to Technology Signs through the times for TELEPHONE have imitated the way each of the following were used.

5 Deaf Education Influence Manualismvs. Beginning even before the Abbe in France, people were intrigued by the challenge of teaching a deaf person to communicate. Most of the methods used, even though several utilized manual forms of communication, still emphasized the spoken vernacular. As a result, various sign systems came and went, taking a generation of deaf students each time. Such recent inventions include SEE 1 and 2, CASE, Cued Speech, and Signed English. Oralism In many schools for the deaf, students were restricted from using signs to communicate. They were forced to read lips and rely on what residual hearing they may have had. This led to ASL being used only outside of the classroom and isolation of certain signing groups. Regional variations in ASL can still be seen as a result of this action.

6 Spoken Language Influence Spoken languages, especially English, have both directly and indirectly influenced ASL. Ex. of direct influence: Fingerspelling loan signs #JOB #EARLY Ex. of indirect influence: Use of first letter of English word in ASL signs* LEGISLATURE KING *Note – these are accepted ASL signs, NOT signed English forms of English words, therefore, what may have begun as a direct influence has been assimilated to the point of becoming an official sign.

7 Signed Language Influence American Sign Language has not only been influenced by the spoken languages of America, but by signed languages as well. The most evident is French Sign Language (LSF) due to the history of ASL and Deaf education in the United States (click herefor more info.) ASL has also been influenced by sign users from Marthas Vineyard and the many Deaf students that come to school using various homesigns.

8 Specific Signs to Explore Help Have Earth

9 Help The changes in the sign HELP are perhaps the most well- known of any in ASL. Borrowed from French Sign Language, it began as pantomimic representation of assisting someone by guiding their elbow – much as one would help an elderly person step from a curb. As ASL became more centralized the sign changed and morphed into what is now recognized universally as the ASL sign for HELP.

10 Have The changes in the sign for HAVE are rather drastic. However, reason for this may be one or both of two things. 1) The early 1900s sign for HAVE also connoted to cherish, while the current version is simply ownership 2) The sign has become much more centralized, using only the immediate shoulder region rather than the whole torso area.

11 Earth The only change in this particular sign is its movement. What used to be apparently representative of the axis earth moved on has changed only slightly. Perhaps this is for purposes of fluidity, as noted in Ronnie B. Wilburs American Sign Language: Linguistics and Applied Dimensions (pg. 35).

12 Conclusion Through the exploration of only a few ASL signs, many aspects of historical change are evident. It is important, however, to remember that a study of language is incomplete without a parallel study of its people and culture. This project succeeded in demonstrating that there is much more out there!

13 References Bahan, Benjamin, et al. The Syntax of American Sign Language. The MIT Press; London: 2000. Bayley, Robert, et al. Sociolinguistic Variation in American Sign Language. Gallaudet University Press; Washington, D.C.: 2001. Huber, Maryanne. Personal Interview. November, 2002. Lucas, Ceil and Clayton Valli. Linguistics of American Sign Language: an Introduction. Gallaudet University Press; Washington, D.C.: 2000.

14 References (contd) Wards Natural Sign Language Thesaurus of Useful Signs and Synonyms. Joyce Media, Inc.; Northridge: 1978. Wilbur, Ronnie B. American Sign Language: Linguistic and Applied Dimensions. College-Hill Press; Boston: 1987. Wortham, Justin. Personal Technical Support. December 2002.

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