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How To Learn Sign Language

Introduction to Gallaudet Linguistics Department Response to AG Bell Association

We, in this series of videos… We are the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet University. What is linguistics, you might ask? It’s the scientific study of language. We are interested in how languages emerge. In how languages are structured. In language variation, language transmission, and language communities. We are interested in studying those kinds of things about language. The faculty and students of the Linguistics Department specialize in various linguistic disciplines. Some of us study the phonetics and phonology of signed languages. Myself for example, I study that. I’m interested in how signs are built and organized. Some of us are interested in the study of language acquisition. For example, Professor Deborah Chen Pichler studies the acquisition of language. She looks at both how children acquire language as well as how adult learners acquire language. And then we have Professor Paul Dudis who specializes in cognitive linguistics, specifically iconicity and depiction. That’s about how signers show meaning or how meaning is connected to language. We look at a variety of things in language, from discourse to engaged research to DeafBlind ASL and so on. We all often think about what language means and what language is. We are interested in the preservation of languages. We think the variation in languages should be celebrated. Of course, because Gallaudet University is a Deaf university, we are particularly drawn to the study of signed languages. But we still think about the bigger question of what human language is in general. Signed languages are included in that overall idea of human language. Really, they are like spoken languages. Interestingly enough, at the very core of both spoken and signed languages, they are strikingly similar structure-wise. Yes of course, spoken languages are spoken using the mouth and signed languages are signed using the hands. And yeah, you hear spoken languages and you see signed languages. But how the basic principles and the underlying structures work are quite similar. We are just fascinated by all of that. So that’s us the Department of Linguistics here at Gallaudet University. We’re into the study and the research of language. Now we will turn to the recent statement about ASL put forth by the Alexander Graham Bell Association. They say that ASL could just be an additional accommodation if speaking and listening do not work. They seem to believe that speaking and listening is the only avenue for Deaf people to succeed. The Alexander Graham Bell Association claims that children must be exposed to spoken language to understand and use language. That’s simply not true. Both spoken languages and signed languages are equal in providing access to “language” itself in general. Is it true that speaking and listening is the only path, the best path to achieve success in “language”? No. Many members of the Deaf community have already responded en masse by letters and videos to Alexander Graham Bell Association about the inaccuracies or misrepresentation of research in their statement. We want to add our contribution. We want to describe to the Alexander Graham Bell Association the problems in how they used evidence in their statement and clarify what the research actually means.

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