Blacks Use Sign Language Differently Than Whites

Students say they include culture in their signing.

Posted: 09/18/2012 05:24 PM EDT
Filed Under National News

Researchers at Gallaudet University just completed the first study that recognizes the subtleties and distinctions of Black American Sign Language (BASL) from American Sign Language. The study, called The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL, is a compilation of data from filmed conversations and interviews with 96 subjects in six states. Researchers say their findings illustrate the existence of a cultural history and richness found only in BASL.


The Washington Post Reports:


The book and its accompanying DVD emphasize that Black ASL is not just a slang form of signing. Instead, think of the two signing systems as comparable to American and British English: similar but with differences that follow regular patterns and a lot of variation in individual usage. In fact, says Ceil Lucas, one of McCaskill’s co-authors and a professor of linguistics at Gallaudet, Black ASL could be considered the purer of the two forms, closer in some ways to the system that Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet promulgated when he founded the first U.S. school for the deaf — known at the time as the American Asylum for Deaf Mutes — in Hartford, Conn., in 1817.


Mercedes Hunter, a hearing African-American student in the department of interpretation at Gallaudet, describes the signing she and her fellow students use as a form of self-expression. “We include our culture in our signing,” says Hunter, who was a research assistant for the project, “our own unique flavor.”


The objective of the study was to provide a description of the linguistic features that make Black ASL recognizable as a distinct variety of ASL and of the history of the education of Black deaf children, writes Gallaudet, a university for deaf and hard of hearing students located in Washington.


Read more here.    


BET National News - Keep up to date with breaking news stories from around the nation, including headlines from the hip hop and entertainment world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.  


(Photo:  Antony Nagelmann  / Getty Images)