The History of American Sign Language (ASL)

Modified: 14th Dec 2021
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American Sign Language was created in 1817, with the creation of The School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut, as the way of communicating with each other. American Sign Language (ASL) is a visually perceived language based on a naturally evolved system of articulated hand gestures and their placement relative to the body, along with non-manual markers such as facial expressions, head movements, shoulder raises, mouth morphemes, and movements of the body, used by people that are Deaf, hard of hearing, or other to communicate to people who are Deaf or hard of hearing. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet is known as the founder of the language, even though there are reports of some forms of sign language from the French to some Native Indians. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet used some of the French sign language and some home sign language that people would use to create the American Sign Language. Whenever it began, the creation of ASL reflects societies view towards inclusivity and a more accommodating country. [1]

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Before the country became a country there were fully deaf people who were from birth. When the Pilgrims came over in the Mayflower, they not only bring the hope of staring a new life but also the gene or herniary deafness and that was the first indication of people using sign in the New World. So, with that they had to make up a way to communicate with people who were deaf.  Everyone on Martha’s Vineyard, where the Pilgrims landed, knew the signs and used them to talk to everyone deaf or hearing because even hearing members of this community used sign language. In the 1700s Martha’s Vineyard was the nearly that only place in the world where people who were deaf and people who could hear were completely included in all aspects such as religiously, socially, and civilly. And they also use their made-up sign to communicate with the Indians that they encountered until they know how to speak one another’s language.[2]

In the 1800 and 1900 centuries, it was common for wealthy colonists sent their deaf children to school in Europe. The Braidwood Academy in Edinburgh, Scotland also known as The Academy for the Deaf and Dumb was created by Thomas Braidwood in 1760. The school was an oral school that was very expensive, and their practices were very secretive. There was a very prominent colonial family that sent multiply of their children there, they were the Bolling family. The family was from Virginia and had three kids that were fully deaf and others that were not, the three that were deaf were sent to the Braidwood school and the others stayed in Virginia.[3]

The up and coming age of hearing Bollings had hard of hearing kids, and they needed their youngsters to be taught in the America. William, the last offspring of Thomas and Elizabeth, wedded his first cousin Mary, who bore five youngsters, two of whom were hard of hearing. The couple's first hard of hearing youngster, William Albert, drove his father's craving to make a school for the hard of hearing in America. William Bolling met John Braidwood, a relative of Thomas Braidwood, after he landed in America in 1812. Bolling welcomed Braidwood to remain in his home as Braidwood sifted through an increasingly perpetual living game plan. Braidwood examined with Bolling his craving to open a school like the Braidwood Institute in America. After numerous difficulties, the Cobbs School was built up in 1815.It shut about eighteen months after the fact, in the fall of 1816, when Braidwood's own issues made him leave the school and Bolling could never again monetarily look after it.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet came across a young lady named Alice Cogswell in 1812, that was the motivation for him to make a school for people who are deaf in America. In 1815, he made a trip to Europe to pick up knowledge on their techniques for showing hard of hearing understudies. He endeavored to gain from the Braidwood framework, however the managers needed him to sign an agreement, stay at the school for quite a long while to be prepared in oralism, and consent to keep the showing strategies for the school a mystery; Gallaudet declined this. He went to a talk in France by Abbé Sicard displaying two effective students Paris' National Institution for Deaf-Mutes, Jean Massieu and Laurent Clerc. Gallaudet went through a while at the school, and he persuaded Clerc, a thirty-year-old right-hand educator, to come back with him to Hartford, Connecticut. Back in America, they set up the Connecticut Refuge for the Almost totally senseless, which was later named the American School for the Hard of hearing, in 1817. Gallaudet was the executive, and Clerc was the principal hard of hearing educator in America. Alice Cogswell was one of the initial seven understudies.[4]

Even though ASL was created to help include people who were deaf, educators thought that by teaching new concepts in ASL was inhibiting the people to speak. This feeling was so strong that ASL was moved from visual leaning to oral, this when on for years and in 1920 almost all deaf programs were using oral methods. There was a ban that was enforced in classrooms in a cruel way like tying deaf students’ hands behind their backs to force them to speak. But then in 1960 a professor, William Strokoe, at Gallaudet University published research that people who are deaf would benefit from learning new concepts in ASL and not from trying to teach them to read lips to make this easier for hearing people. Strokoe also make a the very first sign language dictionary. His work was received incredible fervor in the etymological network and in the long run entered the hard of hearing training network too. Stokoe's examination turned into a springboard for across the board positive change in hard of hearing homerooms as teachers at last acknowledged communication via gestures with great enthusiasm and perceived ASL as the official language for hard of hearing Americans.[5]

ASL’s history take a turn for the worst after it was created, as it was made to help people who were deaf communicate with people who could hear in a way other that talking. But the people who could hear got tired of trying to learn and use something that they really did not need to use or know, so they want people who were deaf to play by their rules and not be accommodating. Then the belief that people who were deaf needed the support and the knowledge to learn in ASL came back and so that the pass did not repeat itself ASL became a official language.

Work Cited

American Sign Language (ASL) definition. Accessed November 18, 2019.

Center, Clerc, and Gallaudet University. 200 Years of Deaf Education in America. Accessed November 5, 2019.

“History & Cogswell Heritage House.” History & Cogswell Heritage House American School for the Deaf. Accessed November 5, 2019.

Seamons, Sara. “The History of Sign Language.” GoReact ASL Blog. GoReact ASL Blog, November 10, 2017.

[1] American Sign Language (ASL) definition. Accessed November 18, 2019.

[2] Seamons, Sara. “The History of Sign Language.” GoReact ASL Blog. GoReact ASL Blog, November 10, 2017.

[3] “History & Cogswell Heritage House.” History & Cogswell Heritage House American School for the Deaf. Accessed November 5, 2019.

[4] Center, Clerc, and Gallaudet University. 200 Years of Deaf Education in America. Accessed November 5, 2019.

[5]   Seamons, Sara. “The History of Sign Language.” GoReact ASL Blog. GoReact ASL Blog, November 10, 2017.


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