Saturday, October 4, 2008


I do not remember a time when ASL was not considered a real language. I went to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf from 1991-93 to get an Associates degree in Educational Interpreting, and the linguistics of ASL and other signed languages were well-known at the time.

Which is why it was a bit of a shock today to see the obit for Edward S. Klima and to realize that ASL has been understood and accepted as a language only in my lifetime.

"Before the couple began their research in 1970, everything known about the human language instinct came from the study of spoken languages...A.S.L., used by a quarter-million to a half-million deaf people in the United States and Canada, was widely disparaged as either a rude pantomime, devoid of grammar, or a broken version of English, rerouted to the hands. Deaf people were made to feel ashamed of it. Teachers of the deaf tried to suppress it, forcing pupils to speak and read lips instead, no mean feat if one cannot hear."

And of course I had heard stories about this, but for some reason I hadn't realized that, had I been born deaf, this might have been my experience as well.

It's strange to realize how academic research can have practical implications, can truly affect people's lives for good or for ill. Strange, too, to understand how far we have come and how recently: for people with all kinds of disabilities, for women, for gays and lesbians. It makes me wonder what needs to be done right now.

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