Tuesday, February 5, 2013
National Signing Day
When I saw the headline on CNN that Wednesday is National Signing Day, my first thought was "An awareness day for American Sign Language? Great!" I realized a few seconds later, of course, that this is the day when high school recruits announce where they will be playing college football. Nevertheless, I'm going to celebrate National Signing Day with a few facts about sign language.
1. Did you know that American Sign Language (ASL) is not the same as Signed English? ASL is a distinct language with a different word order. Therefore, a deaf student who uses ASL to communicate but writes for school in English has to codeswitch between the two languages.
2. The gestural theory suggests that sign language was a precursor to speech.
3. There are a number of different sign languages around the world. A speaker of ASL cannot understand speakers of other sign languages.
4. Just as there are dialects of American English, there are also dialects of American Sign Language.
5. Gallaudet, the world's only university with programs designed specifically for deaf and hearing-impaired students, was created by an act of Congress in 1864 signed by Abraham Lincoln. No more than 5% of undergraduate students at this university in Washington, D.C. are hearing.
6. According to the NIDCD, ASL is the fourth most-used language in the United States.
7. Nicaraguan Sign Language is of great interest to linguists, because it offers a rare glimpse into the birth of a new language. It was developed by deaf children in the 1970's and 1980's who had no access to already-established sign languages at their school in Nicaragua.
8. To study developmental psychology, Dr. Penny Patterson has been conducting the longest-running interspecies study, teaching American Sign Language to gorillas. The most famous gorilla, Koko, has learned over 1,000 signs. To learn more about the study and conservation efforts to protect gorillas, visit The Gorilla Foundation.