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The History of Sign Language

In the early 1500s, people who were deaf were overlooked and neglected. Nobody

respected them because they were unable to communicate with the rest of the world.

This all changed in the 16th century when an Italian physician, Geronimo Cardano,

declared that the deaf community should be taken care of and educated on how to

communicate with the world. He added that the deaf could be taught to communicate

their thoughts and ideas through pictures and symbols rather than words and phrases.

This proclamation compelled Juan Pablo de Bonet to create and publish the first book on

sign language in 1620 (Butterworth & Flodin, 1995). The concept and idea of educating

the deaf took off like wild fire, and spread throughout France. In Paris, in 1755, Abbe

Charles Michel de L’Eppe created the first sign language school that was at no cost to the

students. His ideas led to the creation of fingerspelling, and gestures that represented

whole phrases or words.

ASL has many roots. Not only is it rooted in the French ideas, but also the ideas

of the Great Plains Indians in America (Butterworth & Flodin, 1995). The man

responsible for bringing sign language to light in the United States is Thomas Hopkins

Gallaudet. Gallaudet studied the French ways and returned to America in 1817 where he

founded the first school for the deaf in America, near present day Hartford, Connecticut.

In the following years deaf schools opened up in New York and Pennsylvania, with a

total of 22 schools across the United States by 1863. In 1864, the biggest milestone for

the deaf community occurred in Washington, D.C. The only liberal arts college for the
deaf in the U.S. and world was founded. The college was appropriately named Gallaudet

College, after Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

American Sign Language Today

Today ASL is the fourth most spoken language in the U.S. The ASL system is

the most comprehensive, complete, and expressive systems of signed language in the

world today. The ASL system has allowed the gap of communication between the deaf

community and the rest of the world to be bridged. Interest in sign language continues to

grow with more and more people wanting to learn this unique form of communication.

Many colleges, universities, churches and community centers across the United States

offer sign language classes to better accommodate the ever-growing demand for the

knowledge of sign language. American Sign Language has even been considered a

foreign language due to the fact that is a visual and gestural language rather than an aural

and oral language (Wilcox, 2001).

The Future of American Sign Language

ASL is starting to be referred to as a foreign language. The reason for this

growing idea stems from colleges and universities recognizing ASL as a fulfillment for

foreign language credits in many college degree programs. Gary Olsen, former

Executive Director of the National Association of the Deaf, referred to this notion of ASL

as a foreign language as “an American ground swell” (Bella Online, 1999). Sign
language classes are growing nationwide with increased demand for this “simplified”

language. The future of ASL is bright and vibrant with the number of people in the deaf

community growing everyday, as well as the number of ASL classes that occur on a daily

basis. ASL is now being recognized by many schools across the U.S. as a foreign

language, and more schools are jumping on the idea everyday, so ASL will be around for

a very long time. After all, ASL is the fourth most spoken language in the United States

today, but who knows, it might move up on this list.

American sign language is rooted in the ideas of many French doctors and

educators. ASL combines gestures and fingerspelling to make sentences and phrases that

enable the deaf community to communicate with the rest of the world. It is the most

complete system of signed language in all of the world and will continue to be this way

throughout its existence. ASL has grown tremendously in popularity over the years and

will only help bridge the communication gap between two very vibrant cultures in the

United States and the world.


in New England; 2,000 in the

1818 there were 31 pupils.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1830) Laurent Clerc (1840)

George Veditz (1913)

e popular among educators of the deaf, who believed the best way to educate students
was to use ASL, English, demonstration, pictures, indeed any language, code, or symbol.
The goal was to guide children toward English as their primary language, and several sign
systems of manually coded English were developed for this use.

1818 there were 31 pupils.


Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1830) Laurent Clerc (1840)

out to be no threat at all, as children simply restricted their signing to safe places with like-
minded people.

George Veditz (1913)