LINGUIST List 2.625

Tue 08 Oct 1991

Disc: ASL

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Fan mail from some flounder?, Re: 2.617 ASL
  2. Ellen Prince, Re: 2.617 ASL
  3. Vicki Fromkin, Re: 2.617 ASL
  4. Karen Christie, Re: 2.617 ASL
  5. Ronnie Wilbur, More on ASL
  6. Karen Christie, Re: 2.617 ASL

Message 1: Re: 2.617 ASL

Date: Mon, 7 Oct 1991 16:57 EST
From: Fan mail from some flounder? <>
Subject: Re: 2.617 ASL
The issue of the literary tradition in ASL is particularly timely. This
coming weekend at RIT there will be a national conference on ASL literature.
This includes poetry, storytelling, original drama (not just translation
from other languages), and literary and folklore traditions, which are
indeed elaborated and passed down. It will be substantially documented on
video. There have been several attempts at an orthography for ASL, none of
which are, to my mind, satisfactory as of yet. However, there are many
languages (Sanskrit comes to mind) that had a long literary tradition before
they were ever written down. The point about what the language requirement
is *for* is, of course, well taken.
Susan Fischer
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Message 2: Re: 2.617 ASL

Date: Mon, 07 Oct 91 17:22:03 -0400
From: Ellen Prince <>
Subject: Re: 2.617 ASL
re language requirements, i think two different situations are possibly being
confused: the undergraduate language requirement in many colleges and the
language reading requirement in many phd programs. the constraint that henry
thompson recalls from berkeley, that there be scholarly work in that lg in
one's field, is a constraint we have at penn on the phd reading requirement
(two foreign languages). i would be very surprised if any modern institution
had such a requirement for the undergraduate curriculum. and my understanding
of the original question was whether asl could count as a foreign language for
an undergraduate foreign language requirement.
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Message 3: Re: 2.617 ASL

Date: Mon, 07 Oct 91 20:14 PDT
From: Vicki Fromkin <IYO1VAFMVS.OAC.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 2.617 ASL
If you looks at ttraditions re requirements for degrees in US and non-US
universities you will find many changes. The 'two foreign language'language
requirements had more than one rationale -- it first came in when
Latin was no longer the 'language of scholarship' and it was
thought that graduate degrees shhould be awarded to those who either
could read non-native language scholarly literature, or, for some,
could show by knowledge of at least two other languages that they
were cultured well educated scholars. After WWII there was much movement
to delete the requirement and in a survey taken by either the Association of
Graduate Schools (of the AAU) or the Council of Graduate Schools (which
includes over 400 schools offering the PhD and/or the MA) it was found
that a majority of graduate programs no longer had such a requirement or
that the requirement could be fulfilled by substituting a 'methodology'
course such as statistics, since, it was argued, the language requirement
was as some of the readers have suggested due to the need to use another
language as a research tool.
Given that in most sciences -- physical, life, and social -- the bulk of the
literature is now in English the 'tool' argument does not hold. But,
if it does -- (and languages certainly can be a research tool) than a
literature in the language is not the key to fulfilling the criterion.
Linguistis, anthropologists, sociologists, historians, demographers, etc etc
can and often must use other languages in field work. Certainly ASL canand
serve as such a research tool. Certainly ASL can and does serve this
important function for many (linguists doing research on ASL, neuropsycholo-
gists workling with brain damaged hearing and deaf patients, sociologists,
anthropologists (you should see Barbara Le Masters phD thesis re men's and
women's sign languages in Ireland, for example, which she could never have
written without knowing the sign lgs.).
But the second argument re approving ASL as a lg to fulfill the PhD (or
an undergraduate) language requirement is the importance of studying
a language for its own sake -- to broaden one's intellectual abilities,
understanding of this great human ability etc. And ASL does indeed
fulfill this need
Based on both these reasons, UCLA a number of years ago (with the lead taken
by the Graduate Dean and Senate Graduate Council) approved ASL as fulfilling
any language requirement in any department that had one.
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Message 4: Re: 2.617 ASL

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1991 10:59 EST
From: Karen Christie <>
Subject: Re: 2.617 ASL
It might interest people to know that the first national ASL Literature
Conference begins this week, Oct. 10-13. The conference provides performances
and presentations of ASL Literary genres such as storytelling, poetry, and an
excerpt from a play.
As for some of the presentations, there will be two presentations discussing
metaphors, one which will focus on ASL poetic duets, another on signlore
(numbers and manual alphabet stories), and another which disucsses how ASL
literary performances resembles those of other orginally oral (unwritten)
Additonally, there will be a number of presentations related to how to teach
ASL literature and make it an integral part of Teaching ASL and Deaf studies
The argument that ASL does not have a literature sparks the memories of the
argument that ASL could not be a 'true language' because it was not spoken.
Perhaps, it is about time that the term "literature" be re-defined in a
broader, more unoppresive manner.
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Message 5: More on ASL

Date: Tue, 08 Oct 91 11:27:55 EST
From: Ronnie Wilbur <WILBURVM.CC.PURDUE.EDU>
Subject: More on ASL
Paul Chapin has noted the potential utility of the Sign Language Studies
issue of the case for academic acceptance of ASL. I provided a copy to
the head of our foreign languages department, who ended up stipulating
that ASL was a language but that it could nonetheless not fill the language
requirement for a variety of reasons, such as "entry to culture", "entry to
literature", "not governed by traditional foreign language teaching methods",
etc. (Fortunately, the Dean, who is a political scientist, found otherwise
and approved the student's petition.)
The debate is precisely the result of what Allan Wechsler has identified -
failure to understand the purpose of the language requirement. In the
absence of clear reasons, we linguists have taken the high road and stated
the "benefit from knowing another language for a multitude of possible
purposes", thereby potentially permitting any human language, whether
spoken or signed, PROVIDED that it is either taught at Purude or that we
can obtain suitable evaluators for students needing proficiency exams.
And yes, there is a substantial literary tradition in ASL, including plays,
poems, folktales, origin myths (origins of signing, not origins of people), muc
h of which is now available on videotape. There is a conference on ASL literat
ure being held in Rochester in a few weeks. And don't look now, folks, but
there is an entire repertoire of "hearing people" jokes...
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Message 6: Re: 2.617 ASL

Date: Tue, 8 Oct 1991 11:12 EST
From: Karen Christie <>
Subject: Re: 2.617 ASL
I also feel compelled to add to the discussion about ASL Literature the
existance of and ASL Literature Series Workbook and Videotape by Ben Bahan and
Sam Supalla (available through DawnSign Press) which teaches students to
analyze the ASL Stories told on the videotape. Ben and Sam are 'bards,' I
guess, who have only recently produced this analysis which focuses on meaning
of the terminology of a "line" in ASL and a "stanza" in ASL. In addition,
there are discussions related to theme and motif....language and cultural
aspects...a number of different levels of analysis.
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