ASL: A Language All Its Own (By Sarah Bannon, ASL Instructor)
American Sign Language is offered at two levels in the St. Michael's curriculum, and is designed to develop receptive and expressive ability in ASL, as well as its more sophisticated grammatical features. As this is my first opportunity to address the community, I’d like to offer a bit of background.
What makes ASL unique as a language?
According to the Deaf Resources Library, it is important to note that ASL shares no grammatical similarities to English and should not be considered in any way to be a broken, mimed, or gestural form of English. In terms of its syntax, for example, ASL utilizes a topic-comment syntax, while English uses a subject-object-verb syntax. Some linguists note that, in terms of its syntax, ASL shares more with spoken Japanese than it does with English. Sherman Wilcox, Ph.D., Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico, has more to say on that point:
Because of its unique modality -- visual/gestural rather than aural/oral -- many people wrongly assume that ASL is fundamentally different than spoken languages. ASL is a fully developed human language, one of the hundreds of naturally occurring signed languages of the world. It is not a derivative of English. It is not a "simplified" language -- it contains structures and processes which English lacks (such as ASL's rich verbal aspect and classifier systems). There is abundant linguistic research on ASL demonstrating that the grammar of ASL is radically different from English -- surely as different as any of the more traditional foreign languages taught in school.
Why teach ASL as a high school course?
Teaching ASL in high school brings awareness to the Deaf culture throughout the school community, thereby bridging a cultural barrier between with the Deaf community, a group that could teach us so much. As we know, ignorance fosters discomfort, which those who do not know ASL have felt if they have ever tried to converse with someone who is deaf. Of course it is also beneficial in that it fosters communication among students, and prevents deaf students from feeling isolated in their all-important high school learning environments.
At. St. Michael’s, ASL I and ASL II classes are off to a great start. In ASL I, students are eager to learn sign and have mastered fingerspelling the alphabet. We are working on improving fingerspelling with clarity and ease. We are beginning to learn how to communicate effectively with what limited sign ability students have, such as gesturing, fingerspelling, and resorting to writing as a last option. This is to give students practice fingerspelling, gesturing and using facial expressions. While they are doing this, they will also learn to rely on visual concepts/cues and of course, learning ASL.
In ASL II class, students have retained most of their sign vocabulary via various review activities. They are more confident in expressing themselves visually, which is major progress for some of the students. They are also receptive to understanding fingerspelled words both in speed and spelling, which is awesome because this is one of the challenging aspects in learning ASL. We will continue to expand our sign vocabulary as well as have longer and more detailed dialogues.
In both classes we will have exciting projects coming up so be on the lookout for them!