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ASL in Academia

Posted Nov 08 2009 10:01pm

ASL = English: ASC is pleased to see the trend of more Deaf professionals taking advantage of the internet and technology to formally present their ideas and research in ASL. Traditionally, even in environments proclaiming bilingualism, there has been a longstanding, often unspoken, message that English still reigns superior to ASL. Compare how readily academic articles published in English receive credibility and status, while lectures and videos delivered in ASL are frequently viewed as less serious or scholarly. Bilingualism may refer to two languages, but in many so-called bilingual Deaf educational institutions it has not always been the case that both are accorded equal respect.

Double Standard: What is one to make of the fact that at Gallaudet University last Friday, a hearing doctoral candidate presented a dissertation defense in spoken English rather than ASL? The student spoke to an audience that included Deaf students and professors, as well as hearing students who are planning on careers working with Deaf people. This reflects a lack of an institutional commitment to honoring ASL, something that should be a minimal expectation at the premier higher education institution for Deaf people. This concession to a hearing, English-speaking graduate student, whose choice to forgo presenting in ASL did little to convey a sense of respect and courtesy, is a sad commentary on the university’s double standard. What such concessions are ever made to Deaf students, who have no choice but to write their dissertations in English, a second language for many? Imagine the reaction if a Deaf student made a request to do a dissertation entirely in ASL! Hearing students can cite insufficient fluency or discomfort in using their second-language ASL in front of an audience, but Deaf students can never opt out of having to use their second-language English to meet their program requirements.

Academic ASL: Without a doubt, Deaf people have been proving that academic ideas, once erroneously believed to be “too complicated” or “too abstract” to be explained in ASL, can be presented perfectly well in ASL. Check out the late and widely-respected Dr. Larry Fleischer’s elegant ASL lecture for a shining example of one of the earliest academic ASL presentations. Take a look at the promising new online Deaf Studies Digital Journal for another example of ASL in academia. There are many more examples online. Please feel free to share your favorites here.

ASC would like to thank Raychelle Harris, who was one of the first people to reference and cite an ASC vlog in a published paper. We also appreciate the many people who have requested permission to show our vlogs for different workshops, classes, and conferences. This is the type of respect and acknowledgement that all ASL vlogs and videos deserve.

To cite: Duchesneau, S. (2009). ASL in Academia? ASC on the Couch. Retrieved (date retrieved), from http://www.ascdeaf.com/blog/?p=498.

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