ArticlePDF Available

American Sign Language Literature: Some Considerations for Legitimacy and Quality Issues

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

American Sign Language (ASL) literature is a recent phenomenon in the American and Canadian academic landscape and constitutes an important component for the field of ASL and Deaf Studies. There are a number of pressing issues that have not been addressed until now. These include: how to respond to the status of ASL as a non-written language, various definitions for ASL literature, a large number of literary works translated from English to ASL, and the confusion associated with some works being produced by the deaf community as opposed to those by individual performers. This paper represents an attempt to address these issues. The four main objectives of this paper are: (1) to validate the relationship between oral literature and ASL literature; (2) to provide a comprehensive definition for ASL literature; (3) to promote the value of originality as compared to translation; and (4) to create a taxonomy of ASL literary genres. Substantial information and some research data is presented which comes from the author’s doctoral dissertation, completed in 2013. A comprehensive definition of ASL literature is expected to help maintain the legitimacy and quality of the literary language of the deaf community. The author has been involved in the creation of a collection of ASL literary works, which provides a much-needed basis for research and scholarship. The general knowledge of ASL literature through the familiarity with works listed in the collection will help create a canon of ASL literature.
Content may be subject to copyright.
!
2
SASL Journal
Volume 1, Number 1
Editor-in-Chief
Jody H. Cripps
Department of Audiology, Speech-Language Pathology & Deaf Studies
Towson University
8000 York Rd. Towson, MD 21252
jcripps@towson.edu
Fax: 410 704-4131
Copyeditors
Betsy McDonald Sheryl B. Cooper
Georgetown University (Retired) Towson University
Andrew P. J. Byrne
Framingham State University
SASL Board of Directors
Samuel J. Supalla - President Deirdre Schlehofer - Vice President
University of Arizona Rochester Institute of Technology
Andrew P. J. Byrne - Secretary Harvey Nathanson - Treasurer
Framingham State University Austin Community College
Gabriel Arellano Jody H. Cripps
Georgetown University Towson University
Ronald Fenicle Russell S. Rosen
Montgomery College CUNY - Staten Island
!
3
SASL Journal
Volume 1, Number 1
Table of Contents
Editor’s Commentary
SASLJ Unveiled: A New Frontier
Jody H. Cripps ………………………………………………………………………………… 4
Featured Manuscripts
American Sign Language: Access, Benefits, and Quality
Russell S. Rosen ………………………………………………………………………………... 7
A Sketch on Reading Methodology for Deaf Children
Samuel J. Supalla ……………………………………………………………………………… 35
American Sign Language Literature: Some Considerations for Legitimacy and Quality Issues
Andrew P. J. Byrne ……………………………………………………………………………. 56
Understanding Signed Music
Jody H. Cripps and Ely Lyonblum ……………………………………………………………. 78
Review
Is Silence Music to the Eye? A Review of Signed Music: A Symphonious Odyssey
Lisalee D. Egbert ……………………………………………………………………………… 96
SASLJ Unveiled Cripps
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
4
SASLJ Unveiled: A New Frontier
Jody H. Cripps
Editor-in-Chief
As the editor, I am pleased to announce the inaugural issue of the Society for American
Sign Language Journal (SASLJ). This journal marks an important milestone by providing a new
viewpoint for signers, both deaf and hearing, living in the United States and Canada. American
Sign Language (ASL) has been in use for a long time by deaf people, the primary users of this
language. 2017 marks the signed language’s 200th anniversary as marked by its origin with the
first permanent school for the deaf founded in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. Numerous people
have contributed to the study of ASL over the years, and this journal provides a new platform for
past and present work related to promoting the concept of linguistic accessibility. ASL is not
merely another language for consideration, but it is a signed language that has ramifications for
all aspects and functions of society. Deaf people are not only part of their own cultural
community, but they also reside in the larger society as well. Including hearing individuals who
are signers will help broaden the view as it shifts emphasis on deafness to a more socially
enlightened agenda that encompasses differences, diversity, and inclusiveness. SASLJ is an
academic peer-reviewed journal that aims to serve researchers, scholars, administrators,
developers, assessors, practitioners, and students to impart and share knowledge towards ASL as
a human language.
The first part of this editorial commentary will include a brief historical account of the
steps toward creating the Society for American Sign Language (SASL) and its first symposium
in 2015. The second half will cover the establishment of SASLJ.
History of SASL as an Organization
The initiation of the SASL organization occurred at Deaf Studies Today! Conference in
Orem, Utah on the evening of April 2014 at a hotel with approximately 20 to 25 people (scholars
and conference participants). There was a discussion on the need for creating an organization
that focuses on ASL and its role in current society. A small number of attendees (Drs. Samuel
Supalla - Arizona and Jody Cripps - Maryland, Mr. Ronald Fenicle – Maryland, and Harvey
Nathanson - Texas) volunteered as the working group to implement the establishment of the
organization. This included planning the symposium for the Fall of 2015, and inviting all
interested supporters across the country to consider becoming Executive Council (EC) members
for this new organization. From this response, nine founding board members emerged (see
names in the next paragraph). On September 11, 2015, SASL was formally recognized in the
state of Maryland.
SASL’s first symposium was given the theme and title: Celebration of Sign Language:
Revisiting Language, Literacy, and Performing Arts. It was held at Towson University in
Towson, Maryland on November 14, 2015. The symposium began with the first EC meeting in
the morning with the following members:
Mr. Gabriel Arellano (Georgetown University)
Dr. Patrick Boudreault (Gallaudet University)
Dr. Andrew Byrne (Framingham State University)
SASLJ Unveiled Cripps
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
5
Dr. Jody Cripps (Towson University)
Mr. Ronald Fenicle (Towson University)
Dr. Russell Rosen (CUNY - Staten Island)
Mr. Harvey Nathanson (Austin Community College)
Dr. Deirdre Schlehofer (Rochester Institute of Technology)
Dr. Samuel Supalla (University of Arizona)
At this meeting, Dr. Supalla was voted President, myself as Vice President, Dr. Byrne as
Secretary, and Mr. Nathanson as Treasurer.
Later in the afternoon, six scholars from the EC presented, beginning with Dr. Boudreault
who discussed language preservation regarding Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ, also known
as Quebec Sign Language, a signed language used in Quebec, Canada). He talked about LSQ and
other signed languages which are declining in use among deaf people (see Dr. Boudreault’s
article covering a similar topic in SASL’s newsletter (Fall 2016 - issue 3)). The second presenter
was Dr. Rosen who presented on the rapid growth of ASL classes in high schools, college and
universities across the country (which is now published in this first issue of SASLJ). Dr. Supalla
talked about a new perspective on reading development issues with deaf children who sign, and
he is also published in this SASLJ.
The last three presenters focused on revisiting the performing arts. Dr. Byrne spoke on
the importance of original literary works in ASL (also published in this issue). On the topic of
ASL poetry analysis, Dr. Schlehofer investigated the interpretation of Clayton Valli’s poem
Snowflake and found that there have been misinterpretations from well-meaning scholars. As the
final presenter of the evening, I talked about how music performances made by deaf signers are
real and worthy of attention (published in this issue).
After the presentations, Dr. Boudreault led a town hall meeting with the panel and
symposium participants. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions regarding the new
SASL organization. At this time, the names of SASL’s elected officers, EC members, and the
date that SASL was recognized as an organization were announced. The EC is now called the
Board of Directors. The SASL mission statement was also revealed at the town hall as follows:
The Society for American Sign Language (SASL) is a professional association
with the credentials dedicated to basic and applied research about American Sign
Language. SASL’s goal is to validate and expand linguistic accessibility.
Linguistic principles are emphasized for understanding the signed language along
with its aesthetics and role in literacy development and learning. SASL’s scope
and forum includes theory, policy, and practice considerations, as well as
addressing how an alternative language modality fulfills the needs and well-being
of all citizens in society.
Creating a Journal
A few months after the symposium, I resigned my position as Vice President of SASL
and accepted the role of Editor-in-Chief for SASLJ. Dr. Schlehofer is now the Vice President for
SASL. In order to create this journal, I reached out to six symposium presenters, inviting them to
write manuscripts for the first issue. Four presenters (including myself) were able to complete
and submit manuscripts for review and publication. One of the symposium participants was
SASLJ Unveiled Cripps
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
6
asked to write a review of the evening performance for this journal issue on the evening
performance called Signed Music: A Symphonious Odyssey (it can be viewed at https://
www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JjFCM8UZHM). This evening performance, which I directed,
combined a variety of signed music pieces including video and live performances done by deaf
musicians from the United States and Canada.
Each submitted manuscript was reviewed by two reviewers and we received excellent
feedback from them. I am pleased that all four submissions were accepted for publication. We
also have two copyeditors and an APA expert working with me during the final review process. I
sincerely appreciate everyone’s hard work for making this first issue a reality. Also, I would like
to acknowledge SASL’s President Supalla for his support in promoting the implementation of
this journal and the Society for ASL Board of Directors for their affirmation and belief in our
vision of providing a new journal format for all to enjoy. Finally, I must give my deepest
gratitude to the authors who contributed their pieces to this first issue.
And last, I would like to sincerely thank Dr. Lisalee Egbert for completing the invited
performance review, which is included at the end of this issue. It is my hope, along with other
SASL members, that the articles in this issue will help show critical new perspectives and create
more insightful dialogue and beneficial research and scholarship in the future.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
7
American Sign Language: Access, Benefits, and Quality
Russell S. Rosen
CUNY – Staten Island
Abstract
While American Sign Language (ASL) is taught as a bona fide language in general
education and used as the language of instruction in schools and programs for the deaf, several
issues remain regarding the access to, benefits of, and quality of ASL as a language. This article
provides an overview of sign language education, reviews studies on the benefits of using ASL as
a language for deaf and hearing learners, and discusses current pedagogical and intervention issues.
This is followed by discussion on ideas and options to increase access, benefits and quality
assurance for ASL in American society.
Introduction
American Sign Language (ASL) has reached the 200-year mark. The timing could not be
better for reflecting on the history and recent years of sign language use in the United States.
Despite interest and enrollment in classes where ASL is taught as a language in general education
and used as the language of instruction in schools and programs for the deaf, there are challenges
and issues that need to be addressed. ASL has been used within the society of predominantly
speaking and hearing people. While a majority of speaking and hearing people could have become
signers in addition to being speakers, for now they have not. Despite its documented history and
use in the deaf community, ASL has been marginalized in the larger American society. This can
be seen in the fact that curriculum, instruction, and assessment remain English-based at schools
and programs for deaf and hearing children. This effect suggests that the power of spoken language
remains unchecked (cf. J. H. Cripps & S. Supalla, 2012).
While ASL may be taught as part of deaf students’ learning of scholastic subjects and to
meet hearing students’ foreign language requirement in high schools, colleges, and universities, it
has only been one option for the students. Hearing students may choose languages such as Spanish
or French over ASL, for instance, and their potential for becoming signers and being able to
communicate with deaf people may not be met. Similarly, schools for the deaf may hold out using
ASL with deaf students as only one option, and students’ potential for learning scholastic subjects
may also not be met. Such a language situation for deaf and hearing children in schools constitutes
the focus for this paper.
This paper seeks to generate a more comprehensive picture on the status of ASL for two
groups of learners (one being deaf and the other hearing). The scope of ASL within the deaf
community dominates the scholarly literature with very little attention to hearing people who sign.
Giving these two groups of people a more equitable treatment provides insights and considerations
that may be highly valuable. It is also important to keep in mind that deaf children who sign would
be learning English as a second language, which has repercussions for their scholastic learning.
For instance, reading and writing difficulties with English for deaf children have been reported
and must be addressed (Chamberlain & Mayberry, 2000; Hoffmeister & Caldwell-Harris, 2014).
The questions for this paper are: 1) How accessible is ASL for deaf and hearing learners?,
2) What merits are there in learning and using ASL?, and 3) How effective is the delivery and
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
8
usage of ASL in the education system? Challenges and issues concerning ASL and society will be
addressed with new ideas on how to maximize access, benefits, and quality of ASL with
individuals, families, and the education system.
Access to American Sign Language in Education
To frame the ensuing discussion on access to ASL for deaf individuals and for individuals
who are hearing, a history of ASL in the U.S. with the deaf and hearing populations and in
educational institutions is provided.
History of ASL in the Education of Deaf Students
ASL was initially developed for use among individuals who are deaf at the schools for the
deaf in the early nineteenth century. Prior to the establishment of the first schools for the deaf,
there were indigenous sign language systems that were already in use in certain areas of the U.S.
where there was a high prevalence of deafness among inhabitants. Martha’s Vineyard, an island
off the Massachusetts coast is a prime example, since it played a role in the development of ASL
(Bahan & Poole-Nash, 1996; Groce, 1985). The fact that both deaf and hearing residents on
Martha’s Vineyard were signers is a rarity. Although hearing island residents spoke English, they
often signed with each other and with deaf residents. Successful inclusion and respect for diversity
concerning deaf people was practiced on the island until the demise of this signing society in the
twentieth century (Groce, 1985).
On the U.S. mainland, the attitude about sign language was that hearing people were strictly
speakers, an attitude that continues to characterize the country to this day. This has resulted in the
restricted use of ASL in schools for the deaf. The first such school, the Connecticut Asylum for
the Instruction of Deaf-Mutes (now the American School for the Deaf), was established in
Hartford, Connecticut by Laurent Clerc, who hailed from France, and helped establish the school
along with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an Episcopalian priest who became interested in educating
deaf children after his encounter with a deaf girl in his neighborhood. At the school, Clerc imported
French Sign Language, which became Anglicized, that is, French signs for English words, and
curricula from his previous position at the Royal National Institute for the Education of Deaf-
Mutes in Paris, France. The deaf children who constituted the first classes at the Connecticut school
brought some signing forms from their individual regions, such as Martha’s Vineyard (Lane,
Pillard, & French, 2000). At the school, the Anglicized French Sign Language and the indigenous
sign languages were merged together and became Old ASL. As time passed, Old ASL underwent
changes as expected for any human language, now seen as Modern ASL (T. Supalla & Clark,
2014). This process included the nationwide dissemination of ASL. From the 1810s to the 1850s,
20 schools for the deaf were established, and all of these schools employed the same language,
ASL, and used the same curricula. Individuals who wanted to become teachers of the deaf were
trained at the Connecticut school and brought ASL to other schools for the deaf (Van Cleve &
Crouch, 1989).
This network of schools for the deaf helped with the dissemination and standardization of
ASL through its history. The mechanisms for the transmission of ASL to generations of users
represent a trait that is unique to the deaf population as well. Normally, a hearing child would learn
and master a native language that his or her parents speak. Deaf children with hearing parents are
not likely to find ASL readily used in their homes. For most of history (and to some extent still
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
9
true today), deaf children have relied on schools for the deaf to access ASL. The fact that schools
for the deaf were residential was helpful. Erting and Kuntze (2008) explained that the school
dormitories served as the sites where deaf children socialized and acquired ASL. Signing staff at
the schools played the role of surrogate parents and promoted the transmission of ASL over
generations. Although few in number, deaf children from deaf parents who used ASL at home also
helped ensure that all deaf children at the school became signers. More discussion on deaf children
of deaf parents will follow in the latter part of this paper.
It was not until the latter part of the nineteenth century, when oralism took hold in most
deaf schools, that the language of instruction was changed from ASL to spoken, i.e., oral and aural,
English. As history confirms, signing and sign language itself could not be eradicated, due to deaf
individuals’ natural desire to become signers. The human capacity for language underlies the
power of ASL for deaf individuals. The introduction of oralism began with the establishment of
day schools for the deaf in metropolitan areas in the mid-nineteenth century. The proliferation of
oralism within schools for the deaf occurred after it was given legitimization as a language of
pedagogy at the International Conference in the Education of the Deaf in Milan, Italy in 1880
(Baynton, 1996). There were a variety of responses to oralism in schools for the deaf in America
(Van Cleve & Couch, 1989). One response was that the schools, such as the Nebraska School for
the Deaf, transformed from completely manual to completely oral. The second response was the
establishment of two separate departments within a school, such as the Pennsylvania School for
the Deaf, a manualist department, and an oralist department. The third response was that schools,
such as the New York School for the Deaf, maintained its manualist approach, but offered a
number of classes in articulation.
During the rise and dominance of oralism in the field of deaf education, ASL went
underground. However, it was the continuing operation of schools for the deaf where deaf students
assembled and learned ASL regardless of the policy. Oralism was strongest when in the classroom.
The dorm settings and playgrounds at the deaf schools continued to provide opportunities for deaf
students for a signing environment. Clearly, the cost of diverting deaf education from signing to
speaking was enormous and counter-intuitive. Had history been different and more
accommodating to sign language, perhaps developments like a writing system for ASL could have
been facilitated. Nover and Ruiz (1995) are correct in pointing out the importance of language
planning for ASL, especially in its codification. Only recently (in the 21st century) have educators
and scholars debated the question of ASL literacy and directions for how ASL should be
represented on paper (Grushkin, 2017; Hopkins, 2008; Miller, 2001; Rosen, Hartman, & Wang,
2017; S. Supalla, J. H. Cripps, & Byrne, 2017; van der Hulst & Channon, 2010).
Beyond the pre-college level, Gallaudet University also played an important role for ASL
as a language when established as the National Deaf-Mute College in 1865. Deaf students from all
corners of the U.S. came to study, exchanging and homogenizing local signs, and bringing new
signs home to their local deaf communities. Through Gallaudet graduates, ASL became a national
sign language, although some regional dialects persisted. It was not until the 1960s that ASL
linguistic structures began to be researched by linguists (Stokoe, 1960; Stokoe, Casterline, &
Croneberg, 1965), and ASL was proven to be a bona fide language by the 1980s (Klima & Bellugi,
1979; Liddell, 1980; Padden, 1981; Wilbur, 1979). ASL, in spite of its distinct modality from
spoken languages, shares linguistic features that are universal for spoken languages (Fischer &
Siple, 1990; Fromkin, 1988; Neidle, Kegel, MacLaughlin, Bahan, & Lee, 2000; Sandler & Lillo-
Martin, 2006). William C. Stokoe, a professor at Gallaudet University, was credited with starting
sign language research work. This validation of ASL, coupled with the civil rights movement by
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
10
deaf people that commenced with the Deaf President Now movement at Gallaudet University in
1988 (Christensen & Barnartt, 2003), resulted in sign language returning as the language of
instruction in many schools and programs for deaf children.
At present, the idea of deaf children and adults being signers may be widely accepted, but
it does not mean that society’s support for ASL is strong or absolute. There continue to be forces
that undermine ASL as a language. This is especially true concerning the current handling of the
cochlear implant technology. Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, Napoliu, Padden, Rathmann, and
Smith (2012) examined the medical professionals and practices and argue that they have not
proactively supported ASL for families with deaf children. Humphries et al. were alarmed by the
increase in cochlear implantation of deaf children and the emphasis on speech and hearing training.
They noted the limited critical period of brain plasticity for exposure to a natural language. If
delayed, subsequent development of cognitive activities that rely on solid natural language
acquisition may be limited. They also noted that the cochlear implant surgery has provided limited
success within the deaf child population.
Consequently, this emphasis on speech-exclusive approaches and the uneven success with
cochlear implantation have created harmful effects on deaf children. The harmful effects for deaf
children include linguistic deprivation and communication maltreatment. Humphries et al. argue
that the medical professionals need to be truthful to and build trust with parents and deaf children.
To prevent harmful effects, Humphries et al. suggest that the medical professionals and parents
consider alternatives to speech-exclusive approaches. They propose remedies such as the use of
sign language including ASL, and adjusting expectations of cochlear implant results.
History of Teaching ASL to Hearing Students
While the teaching of ASL to hearing students has a much shorter history as compared to
deaf education, one must appreciate the fact that Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was a student of sign
language. He learned the language informally through interactions with deaf individuals. The
modern idea of a hearing person wanting to study ASL and easily taking a course at a college or
university, for instance, had not developed. Moreover, the positive attitude that Gallaudet had
about sign language must be described as an exception to the rule. In fact, oralism dominated deaf
education during the late nineteenth century and for most of the twentieth century. This suggests
that society had strong and negative opinions about signing or sign language.
While it may appear that society has changed towards supporting ASL, this situation also
appears to be somewhat contradictory. This is evidenced by deaf children receiving cochlear
implants, who frequently do not have an opportunity to learn and use ASL. This state of affairs is
testimony to the persistence of the social problem. One must also look critically at the description
of ASL as a foreign language for study with hearing students. While ASL is most definitely an
American language, it is put in a category with Spanish, French, and other foreign languages taught
in the educational system. The sign language situation in the United States is complicated, and
support for ASL is difficult to pinpoint.
At the same time, the foreign language status for ASL allows more people in society to
learn it than ever before. This stands as a valuable attribute. Social science research that has
documented the American deaf community and culture (Davis, 1998; Frishberg, 1988; Padden &
Humphries, 1988, 2005; Rutherford, 1988; Wilcox, 1992) is what empowered scholars and
advocates to seek the adoption of ASL as a part of “foreign” or “world” language curricula. The
number of states that formally recognize ASL as a foreign language has grown, beginning with 28
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
11
states in 1997 (Kreeft-Peyton, 1998) 32 in 1999 (Jacobowitz, 1999), 38 in 2004 (Gallaudet
Research Institute, 2004) and 45 in 2014 (Rosen, 2015). The results of deaf community work in
ensuring recognition of ASL and deaf community and culture at the state government level were
carried over to high schools, colleges and universities (Rosen, 2006).
Colleges and universities. ASL as second (L2) or additional (Ln) language was initially
offered in colleges and universities in conjunction with collegiate programs that prepare
individuals to work with deaf children or adults. In particular, these classes were developed in the
fields of deaf education, speech pathology and vocational rehabilitation. The broader idea of
studying ASL as part of meeting the foreign language requirement took over and shaped the
educational landscape in a profound way. It did not matter if students had plans to work with deaf
children or adults. ASL was now seen as a language worthy of study in itself.
The rise of ASL for study by hearing students has been documented in various scholarly
sources. Shroyer and Holmes (1982) identified five higher education institutions in 1980 that
accepted ASL in fulfillment of requirements for proficiency in a foreign language. McIntire (1984)
listed eight higher education institutions in 1983 that did not teach sign language but accepted it
in fulfillment of foreign language requirements, which increased to 12 in the following year (The
Reflector, 1984). Delgado (1984) added that there were 20 higher education institutions that
accepted sign language in fulfillment of the foreign language requirement for their graduates.
A study by Corwin and Wilcox (1985) attempted to ascertain policies on ASL as a foreign
language from over one hundred higher education institutions. Most of the universities reported
that they did recognize ASL as a language but did not accept it as suitable for foreign language
credit. Since then, this resistance seems to have lessened. Wilcox and Wilcox (1991) found that
ASL was accepted as one of the foreign languages that meet the requirement for undergraduate
admission in 48 U.S. national research universities as of 1991. The number had grown to 93 in
1997 (Cooper, 1997), 148 in 2006 (Wilcox, 2006), and to 181 by 2015 (Wilcox, 2015). Delgado
(1984) took a national survey of community and junior colleges, and found that 373 institutions
offered sign language classes.
Goldberg, Looney, and Lusin (2015) produced some of the most solid findings. This group
of researchers conducted a survey of foreign language enrollments in higher education for the
Modern Language Association and found that 756 (a third) of colleges and universities in 2013
offered ASL classes. In addition, an increasing number of colleges and universities offer formal
degree programs in ASL Studies with coursework not only in ASL but also ASL linguistics,
history, sociology and the anthropology of deaf community and culture, and ASL and Deaf arts
and literature. Goldberg and his colleagues added that the number of higher education institutions
that offer bachelor’s degrees for ASL majors has increased from 28 undergraduate colleges and
universities in 2005-2006, to 35 in 2008-2009, and 43 in 2012-2013.
High schools. The impetus for introducing ASL for foreign language credit in public high
schools was the presence of signing deaf students in mainstream classrooms. According to Rosen
(2006), the mainstreaming of ASL and deaf community and culture was initially framed by
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) provisions and practices that promoted the use
of speech and hearing for students with deafness. This legislation covers what is known as special
education, which is a powerful force in the public school system. A pathological orientation
towards deafness was criticized in the scholarly literature as “audist,” and places spoken language
in a superior position (Bauman, 2004; Eckert & Rowley, 2013; Lane, 1992). This attitude has
created communication and language barriers between deaf and hearing students in public
education classrooms (Foster, 1989; Gaustad & Kluwin, 1992; Stinson & Liu, 1999). In the 1997
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
12
and 1999 reauthorizations of IDEA, revisions were made by deleting references to speech and
hearing difficulties and their role in receiving linguistic information, and by including “language
preferences” of deaf students, including sign language. ASL was mentioned as one of the
languages used by deaf students for the first time in the 1999 reauthorization of IDEA (Rosen,
2006).
Consequently, one of the altered IDEA practices with signing deaf students was the
increased presence of sign language interpreters with signing deaf students in mainstreamed
settings. Their presence generated interest among hearing students and teachers in the lives,
experiences, language, community, and culture of the signing deaf students. Hearing students
began to increasingly request courses in ASL (Rosen, 2006). As a result, general education schools
began to accept ASL as one of their languages. In terms of the number and percentage of high
schools in the U.S. that offer ASL for foreign language credit, a national survey conducted by the
Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) showed that in 1996 ASL was offered in 1% of the 1,650
surveyed US secondary schools with foreign language programs, or 17 high schools, in 1987, and
2%, or 33 high schools, in 1997 (CAL, 1997). Rosen (2008) found that out of about 1,900 public
high schools in the U.S. that offered foreign language classes in 2004, 701 offered ASL for foreign
language credit.
Benefits of ASL for Learning
In this section, the attention shifts to understanding what benefits there are in learning ASL.
The value of signed language competency is addressed first with deaf students and then hearing
students.
Deaf Students
The value of ASL for deaf students is examined in relation to their cognitive and language
development. This includes consideration of how deaf students’ sign language competency helps
with their learning of other languages.
Language development. In order for deaf children to be able to develop language and
cognitive skills, they need to first acquire linguistic principles. The relevance of ASL as a sign
language in this process has emerged as an important consideration since it is something to be
seen, not heard (Singleton, Supalla, Litchfield, & Schley, 1998). The early perceptions that deaf
children have language problems gave way to the emerging idea that the problem lies with English
as a spoken language. Supporting this, ASL acquisition studies (Mayberry & Eichen, 1991; Meier,
1991; Meier & Newport, 1990; Newport & Meier, 1985) demonstrated that acquiring sign
language provides deaf children with knowledge about the nature of language. Newport and Meier
(1985) reviewed studies on ASL acquisition by deaf children and found that the stages of
acquisition are similar to hearing children’s acquisition of spoken English in American society.
Both deaf children’s acquisition of ASL and hearing children’s acquisition of spoken English
undergo similar stages, which are the following: basic, one-sign, to two-sign and telegraphic
grammars, progressing to uninflected forms, and then to inflected forms and adult word order
forms.
Studies on the acquisition of ASL by deaf children continue to produce positive findings
since Newport and Meier’s 1985 study. For instance, Lillo-Martin and Pichler (2006) studied the
acquisition of verbs; Lillo-Martin (2000) studied the acquisition of wh-questions; Pettito (1994)
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
13
studied the acquisition of pronouns; and Reilly, McIntire, and Bellugi (1990) studied the
acquisition of grammaticalized facial expressions in ASL. These studies demonstrated that the
acquisition of ASL is a step-wise process that is similar to the acquisition of English, although
modality differences between ASL and English are found in some aspects, particularly involving
the use of space to mark references and locations.
The critical period for language development is an important consideration regarding deaf
children learning ASL, as well as for any language, giving children a strong foundation for
language and cognitive development. Newport (1990) reported a study she conducted with Ted
Supalla in which they tested early and late learners of ASL in the production and comprehension
of ASL syntax and morphology in comparison to early learners. They found that early learners
produced higher scores than late learners. In addition, late learners produced more errors than early
learners in word order and ASL verb forms, producing more frozen than productive sign forms
and incorrect word order (Newport, 1990). Boudreault and Mayberry (2006) studied grammatical
judgment accuracy of ASL sentence structures for verbs, questions, relative clauses and classifier
sentences by groups of deaf subjects of different ages. They found that early learners of ASL
performed better and responded more quickly to stimuli than later learners. This suggests that the
earlier a child learns ASL, the more fluent the child would be in using the language to converse
and comprehend signed conversations. The critical age of acquisition plays a role here: the earlier
a child learns ASL, the more skilled the child will be in creating and using language constructions;
conversely, the later a child acquires the language, the less skilled the child will be in creating and
using the language.
Cognitive development. Other than supporting deaf students in their language
development, acquiring ASL also benefits their cognitive development. When deaf children
acquire ASL, they also acquire world knowledge and increased awareness of the events and life-
scripts in the world around them (cf. Wilbur, 2000). A study by Schick, De Villiers, De Villiers,
and Hoffmeister (2007) showed that deaf children who learn ASL at home have superior theory of
mind ability, an ability that taps into their conceptions of facts and truths, because ASL helped
them to develop robust vocabulary and syntactic complements.
ASL acquisition also aids deaf children's cognitive development in that they have the
language needed to perform cognitive operations such as symbolization, categorizations,
equivalence, conservation, comparison and referentiality. Neuroscience research on the visual
ability and processing of deaf and hearing subjects has shown that ASL has contributed to deaf
subjects’ increased visual peripheral skills, cognitive operations of spatialization, including spatial
mapping and referencing, all cognitive operations that are crucial to language development
(Bavelier, Tomann, Hutton, Mitchell, Corina, Liu, & Neville, 2000; Emmorey, 2002). ASL was
found to have aided deaf children in their development of spatial concepts and spatial geography.
Wilson, Bettiger, Nicula, and Klima (1997) studied how the visual-manual modality of ASL
affects the working memory for spatial and temporal information in ASL signers. They compared
deaf children who are native users of ASL and hearing children who are native English speakers
in their performance of linguistic and alinguistic spatial memory tasks and found that deaf children
outperformed hearing children. This suggests that ASL exerts a positive influence on the
architecture of spatial working memory within and outside the linguistic domain.
The visual requirements for ASL processing have effects on the processing of peripheral
visual stimuli. In attention tasks with deaf native users of ASL, electroencephalogram (or EEG)
tracing of their brain showed enhanced brain waves in the part of the brain that is known to process
sound processing, suggesting that the vision area of the brain in the deaf native ASL users has
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
14
spread and is allocated to the acoustic areas to enhance attention to visual stimuli, even if hearing
is absent, and this has enabled peripheral processing over wider space (Pettito, Zatorre, Gauna,
Nikelski, Dostie, & Evans, 2000). Thus, deaf native ASL users were able to detect peripheral
movements to a greater extent than hearing native spoken English users. The study showed that
deaf native ASL users performed better than the hearing native spoken English users in processing
and integrating visual information (Codina, Buckley, Port, & Pascalis, 2011). Visual processing
via ASL also has effects on deaf native users’ ability to identify faces. In studies of face recognition
with different orientations and shading, deaf native users performed better than hearing native
users of spoken English (Bettiger et al., 1997).
Other studies showed that deaf native child users of ASL performed better in tasks such as
image generation and rotation, block assembly, digit span and spatial span; recognizing faces,
detecting peripheral movement, and integrating rapidly presented visual information (Edwards,
Figueras, Mellanby, & Langdon, 2011; Emmorey, Corina, & Bellugi, 1995; Emmorey, Kosslyn,
& Bellugi, 1993; Hauser, Cohen, Dye, & Bavelier, 2007; Wilson et al., 1997). ASL users were
shown to be adept at generating and transforming mental images in nonlinguistic mental image
generation task experiments with superimposition and flash-pacing of the letter ‘x’ on a grid
(Emmorey et al., 1995). They were also adept in mental image rotation, such as the task of using
stimuli and deciding whether the response is its mirror image or the same shape when the image
is rotated (Emmorey et al., 1993). They were also more adept than hearing peers in the Block
Design Subtest in WISC-R in which they created 3-D blocks of cubes to match as stimulus blocks
of cubes (Sisco & Anderson, 1980).
Learning other languages. When the acquisition of ASL occurs earlier in deaf children’s
lives, it will not only facilitate their cognitive and language development, but also provides a solid
foundation for their learning of other languages as second or additional languages. A group of
scholars at Gallaudet University wrote a seminal paper called “Unlocking the Curriculum:
Achieving Access for Deaf Students” (Johnson, Liddell, & Erting, 1989) a work that opened up a
nationwide dialogue on the topic of ASL and deaf children's education. English literacy was
included in the paper. The description of English as a written language for deaf children after ASL
acquisition was a radical concept at the time. The status of English as a second language or L2
requires a new way of thinking for the field of deaf education.
As scholars in the field of second and additional language acquisition know, learning other
languages is not a simple matter of translating from one language to another by matching one-
word for one-word, or one phrasal structure for one phrasal structure, across languages. This is
because languages do not share similar vocabularies, phrasal structures and word orders (Hawkins,
2001). Likewise, deaf children will have to know the differences between English and the language
that they know, ASL. They cannot read English fluently when they have no idea about the language
differences.
L2 acquisition studies also indicate that linguistic features shared by all languages comprise
the Universal Grammar of all languages (Hawkins, 2001). Under the Universal Grammar model,
all languages consist of phonology, lexicon, phrases and word orders. Universal Grammar also
holds that languages differ in the details of these phonological systems, lexical items, phrasal
structures, and word orders. Cross-language similarities and differences have repercussions for
second and additional language learning. Comparative analysis lessons would serve as a good way
of teaching deaf students about English to allow them read the text and familiarize themselves with
English.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
15
The consideration of how all languages share phonological constructs, while differing in
phonemes, is important. Deaf students will need to first learn about ASL phonemes. In contrast to
English phonemes, signs consist of parts in the form of handshape, location, movement and palm
orientation. With this in mind, it is natural for hearing students to enjoy accessing English
phonology due to their capacity of hearing the language. While not accessing the English language
in the same way, Deaf students will nevertheless understand that English phonology operates
according to the same general principles of word structure found with ASL phonology. Deaf
students will need to work around their inability to hear and process spoken words. They can see
English words in print and will need to focus on developing spelling skills. Fingerspelling may
come in handy as a tool to develop spelling skills.
For other aspects of deaf students learning English, all languages share similar lexical
categories, which are nouns, verbs, adjectives and prepositions, and similar phrases, which are
verb phrases, noun phrases, adjective phrases and preposition phrases. They differ in functional
categories consisting of lexical items that tie phrases together into sentences, and they include
copulas, auxiliaries, plurality, and inflections (affixes). Deaf students knowing how ASL works as
a language will be prepared for learning what is specific to English. This includes being aware that
each sign in ASL and word in English have multiple meanings. These students will then choose
words to fit meanings rather than signs and, vice versa, perform signs to fit meanings rather than
words.
Within phrases, all languages have specifiers to mark subjects, heads to mark lexical items,
and complements to mark lexical categories. Languages differ in the ordering of specifier, head
and complement in their phrasal structures. Regarding language differences in the ordering of
specifier, head and complement in phrasal structures, English follows the specifier-head-
complement order; French follows the specifier-complement-head order; and ASL follows both
specifier-head-complement and complement-specifier-head orders. For instance, in English we
say “John has a red car;” in French we say “John has a car red;” and in ASL we sign either JOHN
HAS RED CAR, or RED CAR JOHN HAS. Deaf students will need to attend to the ordering of
specifiers, heads and complements of phrasal structures. This is a cognitive process, not a simple
sign-for-word and word-for-sign learning.
Languages also differ in the order of words and phrases in sentences. Cross-linguistic
cognitive studies show that all languages have different cognitive organization of information
pertaining to the relationship between entities (nouns), attributes (adjectives), locations
(prepositions) and movements (verbs) that generate different phrasal structures and word orders
(Jarvis & Pavlenko, 2008; Langacker, 1987). For instance, picture a ball on a table, and compare
ASL and English preposition phrases. English and ASL differ in the relationship between
movement and location. In English movement precedes location and in ASL location precedes
movement. In English we say “the ball is on the table,” where the noun phrase precedes the
preposition phrase, tied together by a copula “is.” In ASL, we sign TABLE BALL BALL-ON-
TABLE, where the preposition phrase precedes the noun phrase, and does not require the “is”
copula. Deaf students would not be able to master English word and phrasal orders if they learn it
by matching it with the word and phrasal orders of ASL. They must understand how languages
differ in the way they conceptualize and organize notions of entities, nouns, attributes, locations
and movements, and how they order grammatical components.
What has been discussed thus far has support through research. Regarding deaf children’s
learning of English, research studies of deaf students show that a few of them rely on sound-based
phonological awareness to process print instructional materials. A meta-analytic study conducted
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
16
by Mayberry, del Giudice, and Lieberman (2011) found 57 studies that experimentally tested
phonological coding and awareness (PCA) skills in thousands of deaf participants. Half of the
studies found statistically significant evidence for PCA skills in deaf students. However, only 11%
of the variance in reading proficiency of deaf participants was predicted by PCA skills. Instead,
language ability affected 35% of the variance in reading proficiency. Thus, based on the study,
reading achievement in deaf individuals was not based on PCA skills. Language ability had a
greater influence on reading ability.
Additionally, Williams (1999) found that deaf children use signed language as they read
and write in order to engage in representational, directive, interactional, personal, and heuristic use
of language to support their writing endeavors with English. This is not surprising as ASL is deaf
children’s native and accessible language. Wilbur (2000) implored that learning ASL will not
affect or interfere with the development of English literacy skills; instead, it can contribute to
higher literacy and cognitive skills. It is at the cognitive-semantic level, rather than the linguistic
level, that deaf child users of ASL bridge into English as their second language.
Other studies point to significant positive correlations between ASL usage and English
language skills. Prinz and Strong (1998; 2000), and Ausbrooks (2007) studied language
interdependence between ASL and English within the context of reading comprehension skills.
They found a statistically significant relationship between ASL morphology and semantics and
English reading comprehension, reading vocabulary, and overall English language skills.
Hoffmeister (2000) found that students with intensive ASL exposure scored significantly higher
on all ASL measures, the SAT Reading Comprehension subtest, and on the Rhode Island Test of
Language Structure than those with more limited exposure. Kuntze (2004) investigated the ASL
and English skills of deaf students, and found that the skill levels of ASL in their rendition of
reading passages in printed English significantly predicted their comprehension of the passages.
Smith (2007) found that students with higher English reading comprehension scores also scored
statistically significantly better on ASL phonology, morphology, syntax, semantic, and pragmatic
tasks on the Test of American Sign Language Abilities—Receptive. These studies show that the
language ability of the students in using and comprehending ASL has the potential to carry over
as language ability in comprehending English-printed reading.
Padden and Ramsey (1998), De Garcia (2003), and Padden (2006) pointed out that merely
knowing a sign language does not support the development of English literacy, but that tying
specific elements of it to English print supports reading and writing in deaf signing individuals.
Hoffmeister, Philip, Costello, and Grass (1997) found that students’ manipulation of certain
linguistic elements of ASL (e.g. classifiers, plurals, and verbs of motion and location) were directly
transferred to understanding of specific syntactical elements of English. The researchers argued
that continued development of both languages generated cognitive and linguistic benefits, and that
linguistic proficiencies in one language can be transferred to another language. For this to occur,
proficiency in one language, say ASL, is needed to facilitate second language learning, such as in
English. For the researchers, it was important that deaf children possess metalinguistic knowledge
of the languages so that they can transfer literacy skills across the languages.
When ASL is used in classrooms with deaf students, it serves as an intervention agent in
the cognitive and language performance of the students (Saif, 1985). ASL intervention refers to
the processes by which an intervention agent such as a teacher, specialist or parent uses the sign
language in interactions with deaf students to facilitate their communication and comprehension
skills. It requires that the students attend to and analyze a set of syntactic structures that is different
from English. However, it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss studies on deaf children’s
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
17
literacy skills in ASL, which completes the bridging process concerning ASL and English. For an
in-depth discussion on signed language and reading and how a transition to English literacy is best
achieved, readers are referred to Supalla et al. (2017). These scholars have proposed that a special
written form of ASL that is hybridized with English will help systematize the teaching process
with deaf children. The much needed comparative analysis lessons for ASL and English are
contingent on these children having read in ASL and being able to bridge it to English.
Hearing students
The benefits of ASL for hearing students are predicated on the students’ perceptual
processing strategies to learn and use languages. Students vary in their perceptual processing
schemata (Dunn, 1983) and preferred modalities for coding and processing information
(McDonald, Teder-Sälejärvi, & Ward, 2001). Some students rely on visual processing strategies
to learn languages, while other students rely on auditory processing strategies to learn languages,
and still others rely on kinesthetic processing strategies (Barbe & Swassing, 1979). Rosen (2015)
conducted a study of the perceptual processing schematas of speaking and hearing students of
ASL. The students were asked about their perceptual processing schemata and how these affect
their learning of ASL. It was found that students varied in their perceptual processing schemata.
When they first learned signs and grammar, some of the students reported that they thought in
pictures and images, other students reported that they thought in actions, and a few of the students
depended on English translations. The bulk of the student responses demonstrated a preference for
visual processing strategies. Apparently, ASL appeals to speaking and hearing students who
largely rely on visual processing strategies to learn.
There are multiple motivations for hearing students to learn ASL. In the same study by
Rosen (2015) on high school students who take ASL for foreign language credit, it was found that
more than half of the students take sign language because they want to learn about deaf people and
want to work with deaf people in the future, and/or that they want to teach the language in the
future. Half of the students take ASL because they need to communicate with family and friends.
For some hearing students, learning ASL will help students learn English better. About a third of
the students take ASL because they failed other spoken foreign languages, which may be
associated with their learning styles, as discussed earlier. This last finding suggests that ASL
provides the students opportunities for completing the higher education degree by meeting a
foreign language requirement for graduation that they might not meet otherwise.
One particular motivation among hearing students for learning ASL has to do with deaf
students themselves, according to Rosen’s 2015 study. In regular public schools where deaf
students attend alongside hearing students, some hearing students have chosen ASL to
communicate with their deaf classmates. This helps bolster communication between the students,
and prevents mainstreamed deaf students from feeling isolated at their schools. For the hearing
students, classes in ASL focus their awareness on deaf community and culture. Applying that
knowledge through signing with deaf students appears to be fulfilling for the hearing students.
Finally, the extra-curricular uses of ASL as a foreign language by students of ASL demands
attention. Rosen (2015) found certain interpersonal situations and social contexts that fostered the use of
ASL in daily life. The interpersonal situations were created by the learners to use ASL instead of spoken
English when they wanted to bond, tell secrets, express themselves with other learners and avoid having
other people overhear their conversations. There were also social contexts that made it difficult for the
learners to use spoken English and forced them to use visual-gestural languages such as ASL. These
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
18
included locations that are noisy or quiet, or those with great distances between individuals who wish to
communicate.
Quality Assurance: Challenges and Issues
While the benefits of ASL for deaf and hearing students may be great, the overall quality
of how sign language is introduced remains an important consideration. This consideration leads
to an outlining of some of the challenges and issues regarding L1 and L2/Ln teacher development
and curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
Families and Schools with Deaf Children
Recall that many deaf children are born into a non-signing environment with hearing
parents. This poses a challenge all its own. Had American society been both spoken and signed as
reported for Martha’s Vineyard, the situation of deaf children and their families with hearing
parents would be radically different. According to various studies on the demographics of the deaf
student population, about 92% of deaf children are born to hearing parents who do not sign at least
initially, and 8% have deaf parents (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2013; Mitchell & Karchmer,
2005). According to Gallaudet Research Institute (GRI), 23% of family members regularly sign
and close to 72% of the families do not sign (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2013). Statistics
compiled by the GRI showed that their deaf parents tended to communicate in sign language with
their deaf children. This is understandable given that deaf individuals would most likely be signers
themselves. The fact that hearing parents tend not to communicate in ASL with their deaf children
is troubling. With spoken language predominant in society, hearing parents who find their child is
deaf face the task of learning ASL as a new language, and using it in the home in addition to the
spoken language already in use.
The integration of deaf children in local public schools is a priority for society, as evident
by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), and complicates the language
accessibility issues. An overwhelming majority, about 85 per cent, of deaf children have gone to
mainstream programs instead of attending schools for the deaf (Shaver, Marschark, Newman, &
Marder, 2014). Placed in a local public school where spoken language or English is used has
ramifications for the children. Special education's emphasis on integration creates unintended
consequences that undermine deaf children's access to ASL. Reports of poor signed language
competency among integrated deaf students (e.g., Maller, Singleton, Supalla, & Wix, 1999;
Padden & Ramsey, 2000) are understandable given that local public schools center on speaking,
not signing.
According to J. H. Cripps and S. Supalla (2012), the push for deaf children’s integration in
speaking schools comes with a heavy price. The common provision of a sign language interpreter
cannot be seen as good practice. As discussed earlier, deaf students need to undergo a bridging
process from ASL to English literacy, which can be addressed in a signing school. It is reasonable
to assume that only a school for the deaf has the capacity to see that deaf students be fluent readers
of English, for instance. J. H. Cripps and S. Supalla explained that what it takes to teach literacy
to deaf students would simply overwhelm a local public school. Deaf students are entitled to a
signing teacher as much as hearing students are entitled to a speaking teacher. If one comes to visit
a school for the deaf, the signing environment prevails and is frequently a rich one. Teachers and
other staff are expected to sign throughout the entire day. Deaf teachers are widely known for
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
19
being employed in deaf schools along with hearing teachers who sign, which helps provide strong
language modeling for ASL acquisition.
When looking back at the history of deaf education, oralism can be viewed as a poorly
conceived idea. In the past, many educators tried to make deaf children become speakers, while
modern educators have a somewhat different view. However, the same underlying notion persists
with the push towards promoting integration in the education system. Once again, educators are
placing deaf children in a school environment with speakers. The assimilationist attitudes prevalent
in special education are not sensitive to deaf students’ differential needs. The American deaf
community has protested over the integration practices as described, but they were shunned and
put aside (Van Cleve, 1993). While special education is known for trying to address the needs of
children with disabilities, it has to be done in a real and meaningful way. Signing and sign language
are a serious business, greatly affecting the education of deaf students, especially in relation to
linguistic accessibility (S. Supalla & J. H. Cripps, 2008).
When denied access to ASL, deaf children have experienced chronic underachievement in
cognitive and literacy skills. This includes deprivation of linguistic and cognitive resources when
these children do not have an opportunity for immersion in sign language (Schick et al., 2007; cf.
Humphries et al., 2012). Deaf children with hearing parents are at risk. Being enrolled in a speaking
school clearly will not help with this situation. The impact of language delay is particularly acute
in the area of theory-of-mind abilities (Schick et al., 2007).
Schools for the deaf have a long way to go in terms of provisions for strong programming
for deaf children. Unfortunately, a connection between ASL and English has not yet been pursued
in a systematic way in any school for the deaf. Those with cochlear implants will need to be part
of the same programming as they continue to be deaf and must participate in an education approach
that works for them. Such reasoning is based on the understanding that deaf children with implants
experience reading difficulties, and their reading performance worsens as they get older
(Marschark, Sarchet, Rhoten, & Zupen, 2010).
A most fundamental need for deaf children is to have a legal mandate that will mandate
their access to a well-established sign language such as ASL. The Education of the Deaf Act (EDA)
enacted at the federal level does not include this mandate (S. Supalla, 1994). A significant amount
of work will need to be done to improve this legislation as a part of The Higher Education
Opportunity Act in 2008. Amending EDA is not a new idea as it has already undergone changes
through the years as did IDEA. IDEA is designed for students with disabilities, whereas EDA is
specifically for deaf children. The changes to EDA will align it to IDEA so that the two pieces of
legislation will complement each other. Some new key provisions to EDA would require schools
for the deaf to have highly qualified teachers from Pre-K through 12th grade. These schools will
need to have a strong program for making sure that hearing parents who have deaf children are
supported in their learning and use of ASL at home.
A more effective integration model could be pursued through EDA, which would
encourage hearing siblings of deaf children and others who know ASL to enroll in a school for the
deaf. This “reverse integration” is already taking place in a number of charter schools nationwide
(Leigh, Andrews, & Harris, 2017). This innovative integration approach, among other practices,
could help boost the status of schools for the deaf in the eyes of society. The reform as described
here calls for re-inventing deaf education and turning it into a form of sign language education (J.
H. Cripps & S. Supalla, 2012; Padden & Rayman, 2002). The new model would be more in tune
with what is understood about linguistic accessibility and how to best teach deaf children.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
20
Currently, deaf education appears to be declining with its future in question. Dolman
(2010) studied student enrollment in teacher preparation programs in deaf education from 1973 to
2009. The number of programs increased from 65 in 1973 to a high of 81 in 1985, which has
subsequently declined to 65 as of 2009. There were also decreasing number of teacher graduates;
in 2009 there were about half of the number of graduates, 737, as compared to 1973 when 1,365
teachers graduated. Challenges to the deaf education programs came in the form of increased
integration of deaf children in public schools, which brought different sets of requirements and
expectations, and created connections with certain professions. For instance, there were increases
in programs for interpreters (Dolman, 2010). Lenihan (2010) reported that several school districts
have hired speech language pathologists to teach deaf children when they cannot find deaf-
education-trained teachers. Whether all of the above-mentioned programs are competing for the
same students has not been ascertained in Dolman’s (2010) and Lenihan's (2010) studies.
Teacher of the deaf training programs that are ambiguous regarding ASL are especially
problematic. For instance, Lenihan (2010) found that of about 65 deaf education teacher
preparatory programs in 2009, 11 programs focused on listening and spoken languages, and 54
programs focused on visual communication strategies for teaching and learning academic subjects.
Most teacher preparatory programs provide visual communication strategies for teachers to use in
classrooms. However, whether these techniques promote higher literacy skills of ASL-using deaf
children remains to be seen. Johnson (2004) in his review of past studies pointed to the tie between
deaf student achievement and instructional effectiveness of teachers. This researcher noted that
deaf children typically demonstrated sub-par literacy skills, which calls for attention to teacher
training. Moreover, confusion within the schools and teacher preparatory programs about language
and literacy issues is not a good trait for any profession. Sign language education needs to be put
in the forefront in deaf education programs and at schools for the deaf nationwide. This will pave
deaf students’ way for effective learning. This would also help re-affirm the dissemination of ASL,
as well as the continued maintenance of ASL as a standardized sign language, throughout the
country.
Teaching ASL as L2/Ln
With the increased growth of classes in ASL in high schools, colleges, and universities,
questions have been raised about what the ideal characteristics of an ASL teacher are, in particular,
the knowledge, qualifications, and preparation of teachers of ASL as an L2/Ln language. Rosen
(2008) conducted studies of L2 ASL public high school teachers and their preparation and
qualifications. He found that teachers generally lack knowledge of L2/Ln research studies. He also
found an insufficient number of certified and skilled teachers of L2 ASL. Regarding their degrees
and certifications, nationally, a little more than a third of them earned a bachelor’s degree as their
highest degree, and half of them earned a master’s degree as their highest degree. About a tenth of
the teachers did not possess a collegiate degree. The highest degrees were in either deafness- or
disability-related fields, with a few in the field of ASL teaching.
There are various areas of teacher certification held by teachers of ASL according to
Rosen's 2008 study. Eighty percent of the teachers held more than one certification. Most (35%)
of the ASL teachers held certification in deaf education, followed by ASL teaching (13%), K-12
general education (11%), and in fields other than deafness- or disability-related (8%). Five percent
of the ASL teachers earned certificates from interpreter training programs. Six percent of the
teachers possessed one of three levels of ASL instructor certification (provisional, qualified, and
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
21
professional), based on degrees earned, experiences teaching ASL, workshops attended, and
development of lesson plans, from the American Sign Language Teachers Association (ASLTA,
2016), a leading national credentialing organization of teachers of ASL. The teachers also varied
in completed coursework and workshops. Nationally, most teachers took courses in deaf
community and culture, but less than a half of the teachers took courses in the linguistics of ASL,
second language acquisition, and methods and materials at credit-bearing colleges and universities.
In addition, most teachers took non-credit-bearing workshops, which were often given at ASLTA
conferences, in Deaf and ASL arts and literature, second language acquisition, and methods and
materials in teaching ASL. The Rosen study includes anecdotal evidence that pointed to variations
in signing quality among ASL teachers.
Regarding teachers of ASL in higher education institutions, there is little information on
teacher preparation and qualifications. Cooper, Reisman, & Watson (2008) only provided the
highest degree that was received by teachers of ASL. Cooper et al. (2008) reported that as of 2004,
11.6% of the ASL teachers possessed an associate degree, 34.2% held a bachelor’s degree, 46.1%
held a master’s degree, and 8.1% held a doctoral degree. Newell (1995a) looked into the degrees
and years of experience and whether they held certification from ASLTA. However, this study
provided figures for all ASL teachers regardless of whether they teach in high schools or in
colleges and universities. There are studies on desired, but not actual, skills and qualifications for
ASL teachers such as by Newell (1995b) and Cooper et al. (2008, 2011). However, this
information is beyond the scope of this section.
The discussion in this section has focused on ASL teaching in the classrooms of deaf and
hearing students. Very little information is available on how hearing parents with deaf children are
provided with sign language services. Home visits are a common feature for helping parents cope
with the changes taking place in their homes, but how ASL teaching can be integrated into the
home visits is not known. Anecdotally, some hearing parents take sign language classes at local
colleges and universities, for instance, but there is no known study following their progress in
becoming fluent signers. There are also some questions about how suitable the conventional ASL
classes are for these parents. The parents would want to learn and use ASL, particularly in
vocabulary and conversational grammar, for use with their deaf children. It is not clear whether
the parents find attending conventional ASL classes to be satisfactory concerning their needs for
parenting and communicating with their deaf children.
Curriculum and Instruction
The impact of training and quality control for teachers working with deaf and hearing
students is examined here. Both curriculum and instructional concerns can be applied to the
teaching of ASL as a language.
Curriculum for ASL as a first language. The curricular materials that are used by
teachers of the deaf who use ASL in classrooms at schools for the deaf are predicated by the
standards and requirements established by state education departments and local school districts.
They cover academic subjects such as English literacy, math, science, and social studies.
Unfortunately, in contrast to the offering of English at schools of the deaf, few schools for the deaf
provide ASL as an academic subject for deaf children. Part of this can be attributed to how teachers
typically focus on English even though ASL needs to be included in the picture, especially in terms
of establishing a connection between the two languages.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
22
Some schools for the deaf have begun to address the issue of ASL proficiency among deaf
children. ASL intervention is used to identify and resolve difficulties, which may include review
of sign vocabulary, structure and comprehension (Snoddon, 2008). There is a need for well-trained
professionals that will not only address but also execute ASL intervention. Pathology in sign
language production needs to be formally assessed to help combat the language deprivation
situation faced by deaf children (J. H. Cripps, Cooper, S. Supalla, & Evitts, 2016). ASL
intervention is currently provided by ASL specialists who are also teachers of the deaf. ASL
specialists give assistance in class work with students and use ASL as a mediating, intervening
language in enabling the students to comprehend the subject matter. As mentioned earlier, teacher
preparation programs are ambiguous regarding ASL, and this is a serious concern. The fact that
some ASL specialists offer classes in ASL for parents of deaf children is welcome, yet questionable
in terms of professional knowledge and background.
Curriculum for ASL as a second or additional language. At first glance, the curricular
materials that are used by teachers of ASL as L2/Ln are multiple and impressive. Such materials
include: A Basic Course in American Sign Language (Humphries, Padden, & O’Rourke, 1994);
The American Sign Language Phrase Book (Fant, 1983); Bravo (Cassell, 1997); Learning
American Sign Language Levels I and II (Humphries & Padden, 2004); Green Books: American
Sign Language: Teacher’s Resource on Curriculum, Grammar and Culture and Student Text
(Cokely & Baker-Shenk, 1980a-e); The Vista American Sign Language Series: Signing Naturally
(Lentz, Mikos, & Smith, 2001, 2014; Mikos, Smith, Lentz, 2001; Smith, Lentz, & Mikos, 2008);
and Master ASL! (Zinza, 2006). Each curriculum includes certain assumptions about language,
teaching, and learning that are influenced by the prevailing theories and approaches in linguistics,
the psychology of learning and teaching, and a value system for topics. In addition, curricula vary
in emphasis on cultural information on the use of language in different social situations and with
various persons, and the historical, political, economic, and social characteristics of the
community.
In spite of curricular availability, the questionable quality of training for ASL teachers as
discussed earlier continues to be a problem. According to Rosen (2015), ASL teachers do not have
a strong understanding of the theoretical, empirical, and pedagogical assumptions the various
curricula have about L2 teaching and learning. Each of the ASL curricula rest on a variety of
linguistic, learning, and pedagogical assumptions, which have transformed over time. Some
teachers used ASL curricula that subscribe to older assumptions, while other teachers used ASL
curricula subscribing to recent assumptions. There are inconsistencies in curricula used by teachers
of ASL. Pedagogical practices are often created by ‘gut’ feelings, not scholarly, systematic
understanding of what curriculum is, and what teaching entails. Inconsistencies in the selection of
curricula used by L2 ASL teachers raises questions about the understanding of the teachers of the
principles and practices in second language curriculum development and instructional strategies.
The teachers need to understand the assumptions that guide the development of curriculum. More
specifically, teachers need to acknowledge that curricula differ in the selection of topics, types of
linguistic structures, and the degree of emphasis on vocabulary, grammar, and culture information
in teaching and learning.
The fact that many ASL teachers are deaf themselves (Cooper et al., 2008; Newell,
1995a,b) must be applauded for bringing authenticity to the learning experience of hearing
students. These students find themselves not only learning a new language, but also having direct
contact with those who use sign language as their primary language. One still wonders if deaf
teachers’ own education plays a role in the present situation of how the metalinguistic awareness
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
23
related to ASL needs improvement. Deaf people as a group are known for being signers over the
years, but their knowledge about their own language, ASL is frequently limited. The situation of
hearing students who are themselves excluded from enrolling in a school for the deaf and thus miss
the opportunity for immersion in ASL has ramifications as well. Only recently has Gallaudet
University opened its enrollment to hearing undergraduates (Behm, 2010; de Vise, 2011). Along
with the needed changes to how deaf education is set up, such changes point to future directions
for educators and policymakers.
Closing Remarks
This review of studies on access to, benefits of, and delivery quality in ASL reveal areas
of accomplishments, concerns and promise. There is access to ASL in the American education
system that can be improved in various areas. With remarkably rapid growth, offering ASL
programs and classes serves as a testament to both the efforts of members of the deaf community
and society’s increasing acceptance for sign language as a human language. What needs to be
addressed in the future is the prospect of all hearing students having the opportunity to learn ASL,
and not just for meeting the foreign language requirement. This would be part of fulfilling a
universal design concept, where an entire society knows and communicates via an alternative
language system such as ASL (S. Supalla, Small, & J. S. Cripps, 2013). The idea that all hearing
students study ASL as they do English, math, science, and social studies is bold, yet beneficial.
Future studies should examine how learning ASL shapes the architecture of spatial working
memory within and outside the linguistic domain among hearing learners and users. Any cognitive
boost for hearing learners, as was reported for deaf learners, would be welcome in a society that
supports stronger cognitive functioning for its citizens, for instance.
What must be recognized here is the disparity between hearing and deaf children in
language development. The former are experiencing increasing access to ASL, while the latter
continue to suffer from a lack of attention to sign language-based curriculum, instruction, and
assessment and the persistence of spoken language bias in education and society. The polarity and
social injustice as described here should not be tolerated. ASL owes its origins to deaf people
themselves, but society must be held accountable for its signing citizens and be fully supportive
of sign language. This requires sign language planning that ensures benefits and successful
outcomes for all American citizens. Both L1 and L2/Ln considerations and the professionalization
of sign language education, are crucial to such planning. This will occur when inclusiveness and
diversity are accepted practices in society so that deaf people are recognized as a part of the
variegation of human life, and ASL as a natural, human language.
References
Ausbrooks, M. (2007). Predictors of reading success among deaf bilinguals: Examining the
relationship between American Sign Language and English. Unpublished manuscript,
Lamar University, Beaumont, TX.
Bahan, B., & Poole-Nash, J. C. (1996). The formation of signing communities. In V. Walter
(Ed.), Deaf studies IV: Visions of the past, visions for the future (pp. 1-26). Washington,
DC: College for Continuing Education, Gallaudet University.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
24
Barbe, W. B., & Swassing, R. H. (1979). Teaching through modality strengths: Concepts and
practices. Columbus, OH: Zaner-Bloser.
Bauman, H. D. L. (2004). Exploring the metaphysics of oppression. Journal of Deaf Studies and
Deaf Education, 9(2), 239-246.
Bavelier, D., Tomann, A., Hutton, C., Mitchell, T., Corina, D., Liu, G., & Neville, H. (2000).
Visual attention to the periphery is enhanced in congenitally deaf individuals. The
Journal of Neuroscience, 20, 1-6.
Baynton, D. C. (1996). Forbidden signs: American culture and the campaign against sign
language. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Behm, D. (2010, November 26). This is Gallaudet. The Buff and Blue – Lifestyle. Retrieved from
http://www.thebuffandblue.net/?p=4452
Bettiger, J., Emmorey, K., McCullough, S., & Bellugi, U. (1997). Facial processing: The
influence of American Sign Language experience. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf
Education, 2(4), 223-233.
Boudreault, P., & Mayberry, R. I. (2006). Grammatical processing in American Sign Language:
Age of acquisition effects in relation to syntactic structure. Language and Cognitive
Processes, 21(5), 608-635.
Cassell, J. (1997). Bravo! ASL curriculum. Salem, OR: Sign Enhancers.
Center for Applied Linguistics. (1997). A national survey of foreign language instruction in
elementary and high schools: A changing picture: 1987–1997. Washington, DC: Author.
Chamberlain, C., & Mayberry, R. I. (2000). Theorizing about the relation between ASL and
reading. In C. Chamberlain, J. P. Morford, & R. I. Mayberry (Eds.), Language
acquisition by eye (pp. 221-259). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Christensen, J. B., & Barnartt, S. N. (2003). Deaf president now!: The 1988 revolution at
Gallaudet University. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Codina, C., Buckley, D., Port, M., & Pascalis, O. (2011) Deaf and hearing children: A
comparison of peripheral vision development. Developmental Science, 14(4), 725-737.
Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1980a). American Sign Language: A student’s text, units 1–9.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1980b). American Sign Language: A student’s text, units 10–18.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
25
Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1980c). American Sign Language: A student’s text, units 19–27.
Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1980d). American Sign Language: A teacher’s resource text on
curriculum, methods, and evaluation. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Cokely, D., & Baker-Shenk, C. (1980e). American Sign Language: A teacher’s resource text on
grammar and culture. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Cooper, S. (1997). The academic status of sign language programs in institutions of higher
education in the United States (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Gallaudet University,
Washington, DC.
Cooper, S. B., Reisman, J. I., & Watson, D. (2008). The status of sign language instruction in
institutions of higher education: 1994-2004. American Annals of the Deaf, 153(1), 78-88.
Cooper, S. B., Reisman, J. I., & Watson, D. (2011). Sign language program structure and content
in institutions of higher education in the United States, 1994-2004. Sign Language
Studies, 11(3), 298-328.
Corwin, K., & Wilcox, S. (1985). The search for the empty cup continues. Sign Language
Studies, 48, 249–268.
Cripps, J. H., Cooper, S. B., Supalla, S. J., & Evitts, P. M. (2016). Meeting the needs of signers
in the field of speech and language pathology: Some considerations for action.
Communication Disorders Quarterly, 37(2), 108-116.
Cripps, J. H., & Supalla, S. J. (2012). The power of spoken language in schools and deaf students
who sign. International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 2(16), 86-102.
Davis, L. (1998). The linguistic turf battles over American Sign Language. The Chronicle of
Higher Education, 44, 60–64.
De Garcia, B. G. (2003). Acquisition of English literacy by signing deaf children. Ponto de Vista
Florianopolis, 5, 129-150.
Delgado, G. L. (1984). A survey of sign language instruction in junior and community colleges.
American Annals of the Deaf, 129(1), 38-39.
De Vise, D. (2011, September 24). Gallaudet University adjusts to a culture that includes more
hearing students. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com
/local/education/gallaudet-university-adjusts-to-a-culture-that-includes-more-hearing-
students/2011/09/23/gIQAC3W9tK_story.html?utm_term=.77fc7163ff39
Dolman, D. (2010). Enrollment trends in deaf education teacher preparation programs,
1973-2009. American Annals of the Deaf, 155(3), 353-359.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
26
Dunn, R. (1983). Learning style and its relation to exceptionality at both ends of the spectrum.
Exceptional Children, 49, 496-506.
Eckert, R. C., & Rowley, A. J. (2013). Audism: A theory and practice of audio centric privilege.
Humanity & Society, 37(2), 101-130.
Edwards, L., Figueras, B., Mellanby, J., & Langdon, D. (2011). Verbal and spatial analogical
reasoning in deaf and hearing children: The role of grammar and vocabulary. Journal of
Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16(2), 189-197.
Ellis, R. (2003). Task-based language learning and teaching. New York, NY: Oxford University
Press.
Emmorey, K. (2002). Language, cognition, and the brain: Insights from sign language research.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates.
Emmorey, K., Corina, D., & Bellugi, U. (1995). Differential processing of topographic and
referential functions of space. In K. Emmorey & J. S. Reilly (Eds.), Language, gesture,
and space (pp. 43-62). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Emmorey, K., Kosslyn, S. M., & Bellugi, U. (1993). Visual imagery and visual-spatial language:
Enhanced imagery abilities in deaf and hearing ASL signers. Cognition, 46, 139-181.
Erting, C., & Kuntze, M. (2008). Language socialization in deaf communities. In P. A. Duff &
N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education (2nd ed., Vol. 8, pp.
287-300). New York, NY: Springer Publishing.
Fant, L. (1983). The American Sign Language phrase book. Lincolnwood, IL: Contemporary
Books.
Fischer, S., & Siple, P. (1990). Theoretical issues in sign language research. Chicago, IL:
The University of Chicago Press.
Foster, S. (1989). Social alienation and peer identification: A study of the social construction of
deafness. Human Organization, 48, 226–235.
Frishberg, N. (1988). Signers of tales: The case for literary status of an unwritten language. Sign
Language Studies, 59, 149–170.
Fromkin, V. A. (1988). Sign language: Evidence for language universals and the linguistic
capacity of the human brain. Sign Language Studies, 59, 115–128.
Gallaudet Research Institute. (2004). States that recognize American Sign Language as a foreign
language. Retrieved from http://clerccenter.gallaudet.edu/InfoToGo/index.html
Gallaudet Research Institute. (2013). Regional and national summary report of data from the
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
27
2011-12 annual survey of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth. Washington, DC:
Gallaudet University.
Gaustad, M. G., & Kluwin, T. N. (1992). Patterns of communication among deaf and hearing
adolescents. In T. N. Kluwin, D. F. Moores, & M. G. Gaustad (Eds.), Toward effective
school programs for deaf students (pp. 107-128). New York, NY: Teachers College
Press.
Goldberg, D., Looney, D., & Lusin, N. (2015). Enrollments in languages other than English in
United States institutions of higher education: Fall 2013. New York, NY: Modern
Language Association.
Groce, N. (1985). Everyone here spoke sign language: Hereditary deafness on Martha’s
Vineyard. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Grushkin, D. A. (2017). Writing signed languages: What for? What form? American Annals of
the Deaf, 161(5), 509-527.
Hauser, P. C., Cohen, J., Dye, M. W., & Bavelier, D. (2007). Visual constructive and visual-
motor skills in deaf native signers. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 12(2),
148-57.
Hawkins, R. (2001). Second language syntax: A generative introduction. Oxford, UK: Blackwell
Publishers, Ltd.
Higher Education Opportunity Act, Pub. L. 110-315, 122 Stat. 3450. (2008). Retrieved from
https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/PLAW-110publ315/pdf/PLAW-110publ315.pdf
Hoffmeister, R., Philip, M., Costello, P., & Grass, W. (1997). Evaluating American Sign
Language in deaf children: ASL influences own reading with a focus on classifiers,
plurals, verbs of motion and location. In J. Mann (Ed.), Proceedings of deaf studies V
conference (pp. 22-31). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University.
Hoffmeister, R. J. (2000). A piece of the puzzle: ASL and reading comprehension in deaf
children. In C. Chamberlain, J. P. Morford, & R. Mayberry (Eds.), Language
acquisition by eye (pp. 143-163). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
Hoffmeister, R. J., & Caldwell-Harris, C. L. (2014). Acquiring English as a second language via
print: The task for deaf children. Cognition, 132(2), 229-242.
Hopkins, J. (2008). Choosing how to write sign language: A sociolinguistic perspective.
International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 192, 75-89.
Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoliu, D. J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C., & Smith,
S. R. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero
tolerance to the use of alternative approaches. Harm Education Journal, 9(16), 1-9.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
28
Humphries, T., & Padden, C. (2004). Learning American Sign Language: Levels I and II (2nd
ed.). San Francisco, CA: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Humphries, T., Padden, C., & O’Rourke, T. (1994). A basic course in American Sign Language
(2nd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: Linstok.
Jacobowitz, E. L. (1999, October 7-10). American Sign Language in higher education:
Implications for administrators and teacher trainers. Paper presented at the American
Sign Language Teachers Association – Professional Development Conference,
Rochester, NY.
Jarvis, S., & Pavlenko, A. (2008). Crosslinguistic influence in language and cognition. New
York, NY: Routledge.
Johnson, H. A. (2004). U.S. deaf education teacher preparation programs: A look at the present
and a vision for the future. American Annals of the Deaf, 149(2), 75-91.
Johnson, R. E., Liddell, S. K., & Erting, C. J. (1989). Unlocking the curriculum: Principles for
achieving access in deaf education (Gallaudet Research Institute Working/Occasional
Paper Series, No. 89-3). Washington, DC: Gallaudet Research Institute.
Klima, E., & Bellugi, U. (1979). The signs of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press.
Kreeft-Peyton, J. (1998). ASL as a foreign language. K-12 Foreign Language Education, 6, 1–3.
Kuntze, M. (2004). Literacy acquisition and deaf children: A study of the interaction between
ASL and written English (Unpublished dissertation). Stanford University, Stanford, CA.
Lane, H. L. (1992). The mask of benevolence: Disabling the deaf community. New York, NY:
Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
Langacker, R. W. (1987). Foundations of cognitive grammar: Theoretical perspectives (Vol. 1).
Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
Leigh, I. W., Andrews, J. F., & Harris, R. L. (2017). Deaf culture: Exploring deaf communities
in the United States. San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing.
Lenihan, S. (2010). Trends and challenges in teacher preparation in deaf education. The Volta
Review, 110(2), 117-128.
Lentz, E. M., Mikos, K., & Smith, C. (2001). Signing naturally: Teacher’s curriculum guide:
Level 2. San Diego, CA: DawnSignPress.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
29
Lentz, E. M., Mikos, K., & Smith, C. (2014). Signing naturally: Teacher’s curriculum guide:
Units 7-12. San Diego, CA: DawnSignPress.
Liddell, S. K. (1980). American Sign Language syntax. The Hague, NL: Mouton Publishers.
Lillo-Martin, D. (2000). Early and late in language acquisition: Aspects of the syntax and
acquisition wh-questions in American Sign Language. In K. Emmorey & H. Lane
(Eds.), The signs of language revisited: An anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and
Edward Klima (pp. 401-414). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Lillo-Martin, D., & Pichler, D. C. (2006). Acquisition of syntax in signed languages. In B.
Schick, M. Marschark, & P. E. Spencer (Eds.), Advances in the sign language
development of deaf children (pp. 231-261). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Maller, S. J., Singleton, J. L., Supalla, S. J., & Wix, T. (1999). The development and
psychometric properties of the American Sign Language Proficiency Assessment (ASL-
PA). Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(4), 249-269.
Marschark, M., Sarchet, T., Rhoten, C., & Zupen, M. (2010). Will cochlear implants close the
reading achievement gap for deaf students? In M. Marschark & P. E. Spencer (Eds.), The
Oxford handbook of deaf studies, language, and education (Vol. 2, pp. 127-143). Oxford,
UK: Oxford University Press.
Mayberry, R. I., del Giudice, A. A., & Lieberman, A. M. (2011). Reading achievement in
relation to phonological coding and awareness in deaf readers: A meta-analysis.
Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 16(2), 164-188.
Mayberry, R. I., & Eichen, E. B. (1991). The long-lasting advantage of learning sign language in
childhood: Another look at the critical period for language acquisition. Journal of
Memory and Language, 30, 486–512.
McDonald, J. J., Teder-Sälejärvi, W. A., & Ward, L. M. (2001). Multisensory integration and
cross-modal attention effects in the human brain. Science, 292, 1791.
McIntire, M. (1984). Achieving academic acceptance. The Reflector: A Journal for Sign
Language Teachers and Interpreters, 8, 5-6.
Meier, R. P. (1991). Language acquisition by deaf children. American Scientist, 79(1), 60-70.
Meier, R. P., & Newport, E. L. (1990). Out of the hands of babies: On a possible sign advantage
in language acquisition. Language, 66(1), 1-23.
Mikos, K., Smith, C., & Lentz, E. M. (2001). Signing naturally: Teacher’s curriculum guide:
Level 3. San Diego, CA: DawnSignPress.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
30
Miller, C. (2001). Some reflections on the need for a common sign notation. Sign Language &
Lingusitcs, 4(1/2), 11-28.
Mitchell, R. E., & Karchmer, M. A. (2005). Parental hearing status and signing among deaf and
hard of hearing students. Sign Language Studies, 5(2), 231-244.
Neidle, C., Kegl, J., MacLaughlin, D., Bahan, B., & Lee, R. (2000). The syntax of American Sign
Language: Functional categories and hierarchical structure. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Newell, W. (1995a). A profile of professionals teaching American Sign Language. Sign
Language Studies, 86, 19–36.
Newell, W. (1995b). American Sign Language teachers: Practices and perceptions. Sign
Language Studies, 87, 141–165.
Newport, E. L. (1990). Maturational constraints on language learning. Cognitive Science, 14(1),
11-28.
Newport, E. L., & Meier, R. P. (1985). The acquisition of American Sign Language. In D. Slobin
(Ed.), The cross-linguistic study of language acquisition (pp. 881-938). Hillside, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum.
Nover, S., & Ruiz, R. (1992). ASL and language planning in deaf education. In D. Martin & R.
Mobley (Eds.), Proceedings of the first international symposium on teacher education in
deafness (pp. 153-171). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Padden, C. (1981). Some arguments for syntactic patterning in American Sign Language. Sign
Language Studies, 32, 239–259.
Padden, C. (2006) Learning fingerspelling twice: Young signing children’s acquisition of
fingerspelling. In M. Marschark, B. Schick, & P. Spencer (Eds.). Advances in sign
language development by deaf children (pp. 189-201). New York, NY: Oxford
University Press.
Padden, C., & Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a culture. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Padden, C., & Humphries, T. (2005). Inside deaf culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press.
Padden, C., & Ramsey, C. (1998). Reading ability in signing deaf children. Topics in Language
Disorders, 18(4), 30-46.
Padden, C., & Ramsey, C. (2000). American Sign Language and reading ability in deaf children.
In C. Chamberlain, J. P. Morford, & R. Mayberry (Eds.), Language acquisition by eye
(pp. 165-189). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
31
Padden, C., & Rayman, J. (2002). Concluding thoughts: The future of American Sign Language.
In J. V. Van Cleve, D. F. Armstrong, & M. A. Karchmer (Eds.), The study of signed
languages: Essays in honor of William C. Stokoe (pp. 247-261). Washington, DC:
Gallaudet University Press.
Pettito, L. A. (1994). On the equipotentiality of signed and spoken language in early language
ontogeny. In B. Snider (Ed.), Post-Milan ASL and English literacy: Issues, trends, and
research (pp. 195-223). Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Pettito, L. A., Zatorre, R. J., Gauna, K., Nikelski, E. J., Dostie, D., & Evans, A. C. (2000).
Speech-like cerebral activity in profoundly deaf people possessing signed languages:
Implications for the neural basis of human language. Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 97(25), 13961-13966.
Prinz, P., & Strong, M. (1998). ASL proficiency and English literacy within a bilingual deaf
education model of instruction. Topics in Language Disorders, 18(4), 47-60.
Prinz, P., & Strong, M. (2000). Is American Sign Language skill related to English literacy? In
C. Chamberlain, J. P. Morford, & R. Mayberry (Eds.), Language acquisition by eye (pp.
131-141). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
Reilly, J., McIntire, M., & Bellugi, U. (1990). Conditionals in American Sign Language:
Grammaticalized facial expressions. Applied Psycholinguistics, 11(4), 369-392.
Rosen, R. (2006). An unintended consequence of IDEA: American Sign Language, the deaf
community, and deaf culture into mainstream education. Disability Studies Quarterly,
26(2). Retrieved from http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/685/862
Rosen, R. (2008). American Sign Language as a foreign language in US high schools: State of
the art. Modern Language Journal, 92(1), 10-38.
Rosen, R. (2015). Learning American Sign Language in high school: Motivation, strategies, and
achievement. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Rosen, R. S., Hartman, M. C., & Wang, Y. (2017). “Thinking-For-Writing”: A prolegomenon on
writing signed languages. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(5), 528-536.
Rutherford, S. A. (1988). The culture of American deaf people. Sign Language Studies, 59,129-
148.
Saif, P. (1985). Analysis. In D. Martin (Ed.), Cognition, education, and deafness (pp. 196-200).
Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Sandler, W., & Lillo-Martin, D. (2006). Sign language and linguistic universals. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
32
Schick, B., De Villiers, P., De Villiers, J., & Hoffmeister, R. (2007). Language and theory of
mind: A study of deaf children. Child Development, 78(2), 376-396.
Shaver, D. M., Marschark, M., Newman, L., & Marder, C. (2014). Who is where?
Characteristics of deaf and hard of hearing students in regular and special schools.
Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 19(2), 203-219.
Shroyer, E. H., & Holmes, D. W. (1982). Sign students in sign language classes. The Reflector:
A Journal for Sign Language Teachers and Interpreters, 3, 21–22.
Singleton, J. L., Supalla, S., Litchfield, S., & Schley, S. (1998). From sign to word: Considering
modality constraints in ASL/English bilingual education. Topics in Language Disorders,
18(4), 16-29.
Sisco, F. H., & Anderson, R. J. (1980). Deaf children’s performance on the WISC-R relative to
hearing status of parents and child-rearing experiences. American Annals of the Deaf,
125, 923-930.
Smith, A. (2007). The performance of deaf students on a test of American Sign Language
abilities—Receptive (TASLA—R) (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Lamar University,
Beaumont, TX.
Smith, C., Lentz, E. M., & Mikos, K. (2008). Signing naturally: Teacher’s curriculum guide:
Units 1-6. San Diego, CA: DawnSignPress.
Snoddon, K. (2008). American Sign Language and early intervention. The Canadian Modern
Language Review/La Revue Canadienne Des Langues Vivantes, 64(4), 581-604.
Stinson, M. S., & Liu, Y. (1999). Participation of deaf and hard of hearing students in classes
with hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(3), 191–202.
Stokoe, W. C. (1960). Sign language structure: An outline of the visual communication system of
the American deaf. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Stokoe, W. C., Casterline, D., & Croneberg, C. (1965). A dictionary of American Sign Language
on linguistic principles. Washington, DC: Gallaudet College Press.
Supalla, S. J. (1994). Equality in educational opportunities: The deaf version. In C. J. Erting, R.
C. Johnson, D. L. Smith, & B. D. Snider (Eds.), The deaf way: Perspectives from the
international conference on deaf culture (pp. 584-592). Washington, DC: Gallaudet
University Press.
Supalla, S. J., & Cripps, J. H. (2008). Linguistic accessibility and deaf children. In B. Spolsky &
F. M. Hult (Eds.), The handbook of educational linguistics (pp. 174-191). Oxford, UK:
Blackwell.
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
33
Supalla, S. J., Cripps, J. H., & Byrne, A. P. J. (2017). Why American Sign Language gloss must
matter. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(5), 540-551.
Supalla, S. J., Small, A., & Cripps, J. S. (2013). American Sign Language for everyone:
Considerations for universal design and deaf youth identity (Monograph Series 2).
Toronto, ON: Canadian Cultural Society of the Deaf & Knowledge Network for Applied
Educational Research.
Supalla, T., & Clark, P. (2014). Sign language archaeology: Understanding the historical roots
of American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Sign course inventory. (1984). The Reflector: A Journal for Sign Language Teachers and
Interpreters, 8, 12-17.
Van Cleve, J. V. (1993). The academic integration of deaf children. In R. Fischer & H. Lane
(Eds.), A reader on the history of deaf communities and their sign languages (pp. 333-
347). Hamburg, DL: Signum Press.
Van Cleve, J. V., & Couch, B. A. (1989). A place of their own: Creating the deaf community in
America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
van der Hulst, H., & Channon, R. (2010). Notation systems. In D. Brentari (Ed.), Sign languages
(pp. 151-172). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wilbur, R. (1979). American Sign Language and sign systems. Baltimore, MD: University Park
Press.
Wilbur, R. (2000). The use of ASL to support the development of English and literacy. Journal
of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 5(1), 81-104.
Wilcox, S. (1992). Academic acceptance of American Sign Language. Burtonsville, MD: Linstok
Press.
Wilcox, S. (2006). Universities that accept ASL as a foreign language. Retrieved from
www.unm.edu/%7ewilcox/universities_that_accept_as.htm
Wilcox, S. (2015). Universities that accept ASL as a foreign language. Retrieved from
www.unm.edu/%7ewilcox/universities_that_accept_as.htm
Wilcox, S., & Wilcox, P. (1991). Learning to see: Teaching American Sign Language as a
second language (1st ed.). Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Williams, C. L. (1999). Preschool deaf children’s use of signed language during writing events.
Journal of Literacy Research, 31(2), 183-212.
Wilson, M., Bettiger, J. G., Niculae, I., & Klima, E. S. (1997). Modality of language shapes
working memory: Evidence from digit span and spatial span in ASL signers. Journal of
ASL: Access, Benefits, and Quality Rosen
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
34
Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 2(3), 123-132.
Zinza, J. E. (2006). Master ASL! Level one. Burtonsville, MD: Sign Media, Inc.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
35
A Sketch on Reading Methodology for Deaf Children
Samuel J. Supalla
University of Arizona
Abstract
A well-established reading methodology is much needed in the field of deaf education.
While the concept of signed language reading is intriguing and underappreciated, it has some of
the clearest implications for how to teach reading to deaf children. This paper begins by covering
historical attempts to have deaf children learn to read in signed language. The distinction
between signed language reading and spoken language reading is part of the paper’s creation of a
cohesive theoretical basis outlining best reading instruction practices. A key element of the
discussion is how deaf children find text readable when it represents the language that they know,
American Sign Language (ASL). This includes utilizing glossing as an intermediary system and
reading methodology which enable deaf children to experience a transition to English literacy, all
the while learning to read in ASL. Some indications of signed language reading (associated with
glossing) are laid out through a review of published research reports. Deaf children in a charter
school setting are highlighted in a variety of reading behaviors resembling hearing learners in
early elementary school years. Signed language reading incorporates parallel concepts such as
sounds, phonics, phonemic awareness, reading-aloud, and sounding out. The paper’s emphasis
on the liberal application of key concepts for reading processes produces a scenario where
deafness may no longer serve as a barrier to reading.
Introduction
Teaching deaf children how to read is highly desirable, yet elusive. With this paper, the
focus is on understanding reading methodology and how it can help deaf children learn to read.
Over the years, educators have debated language issues still relevant today. However, the
primary function of a school is to teach reading and writing skills. Thus, to help redirect
educators towards literacy with deaf children, a formal distinction between signed language
reading and spoken language reading must be made. This begins a dialogue on how deaf children
can best learn to read. Not only are American Sign Language (ASL) and English two distinct
languages, they represent languages in two different modalities: signed vs. spoken (Singleton, S.
Supalla, Litchfield, & Schley, 1998). Deaf children are known for being native signers and
thinking and processing in signed language (Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996). This prevalence
of signed language knowledge must be seen as an asset in considerations of reading pedagogy.
This includes making ASL text a part of deaf children’s reading development experiences.
With English, the reading situation is understandably problematic for deaf children as
they do not hear the language in question. This is where spoken language reading has serious
limitations. Children born profoundly deaf or becoming deaf before the age of two would not
have the ability to internalize English and utilize the spoken language knowledge for reading
development purposes. Descriptions of the experience of learning to read in English as
bewildering for deaf children (Hoffmeister & Caldwell-Harris, 2014) is especially troubling. A
child who can hear would have spoken language knowledge in place and use it as a reference
point for learning to read English. In contrast, the deaf child does not have this type of
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
36
knowledge to help with the reading process (Paul & Quigley, 1987; see Paul, 1994 for further
discussion on the reading complications that arise for deaf children with English). In a typical
classroom with deaf children in a school for the deaf, the print has been strictly limited to
English. Yet these children know ASL, and thus written English is foreign and inaccessible.
With the provision of ASL text, deaf children integrate their knowledge with linguistic
concepts, which is the most important principle for reading instruction. Reading then has the
potential to become effective along a trajectory of teachable skills. Equally important is the
prospect for deaf children to experience a transition to English literacy at the same time. Goldin-
Meadow and Mayberry (2001) proposed that an intermediary system be developed for deaf
children so that they could map ASL onto English literacy for optimal learning outcomes. While
the intermediary system idea is novel and intriguing, details on what it might look like are
lacking. This paper intends to detail an innovative reading instruction approach called glossing.
Glossing is identified in this paper as the intermediary system that was implemented in a charter
school in Arizona. ASL text is part of this framework along with other tools and procedures.
This represents an important difference from hearing children, as they normally learn to
read in just one language. If they had to learn another language, they would repeat the reading
process in ways similar to the first language. This reinforces the idea that “[second language or
L2] proficiency is a vital prerequisite to efficient L2 reading,” a statement by the L2 reading
theorist, Keiko Koda (2005, p. 23). What this suggests is that deaf children must learn spoken
English in order to read it effectively. This is clearly unfair due to their disability. It is clear that
the established reading theories account for one language mapping only for monolingualism and
bilingualism (e.g., Adams, 1990; Grabe, 2009; Hoover & Gough, 1990; Koda, 2005; Snow,
Burns, & Griffin, 1998). As discussed in S. Supalla and Cripps (2011), hearing children do not
use one language to decode another language (based on current reading methodologies), but this
is precisely what deaf children are required to do. Glossing, a cross-linguistic reading instruction
approach, provides insights and methodological details for improving this situation.
A review of research literature on glossing will follow, emphasizing a variety of ASL
reading behaviors that deaf children at the Arizona charter school modeled, and a comparison to
what is known for spoken language reading. To help create a strong sense of background on
signed language reading, the paper will begin with a discussion of efforts occurring in the early
nineteenth century. Perhaps a surprise to many in the field of deaf education, signed language
reading was actively pursued at that time. However, readers will learn that a different signed
language reading model was pursued instead of glossing. Coverage of previous efforts will point
to the strengths of glossing as a reading methodology for deaf children.
Early Attempts with Signed Language Reading
At the time of writing this paper, American deaf education has reached its 200-year mark,
but the field has a longer history, considering that the world’s first public school for the deaf was
founded in Paris, France. This school served as a model for many nations worldwide, including
the United States (Van Cleve & Crouch, 1989). At the Paris school for the deaf, the concept of
signed language reading was first explored. However, the French educators were largely
occupied with language issues before shifting their attention to reading issues. This is
understandable as reading is contingent on language. The important question raised at the time
was whether signing should approximate the structure of French or best stood as a distinctive
language. When the school was opened, a signed version of French was developed and used with
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
37
deaf children. Knowing French through the signed medium was thought to help deaf children
with learning to read in French (see Mayer & Wells, 1996 for a similar assumption concerning
signed English as used in the United States and Canada). However, through the test of time
educators came to the conclusion that Natural Sign (the name they gave to the communication
that deaf children used among themselves) was the better choice (see S. Supalla & McKee, 2002
for a psycholinguistic explanation on why a sign system modeling the structure of a spoken
language is ill-advised and problematic). Although Natural Sign was not French, the idea of deaf
children using a language that worked for them superseded the educators’ intention of confining
deaf education to the French language.
French educator, Roch-Ambroise Bébian initiated the signed language reading movement.
The logic was that if Natural Sign is deaf children’s language, reading must then be taught in that
language (see Grushkin, 2017 for a similar argument for ASL and deaf children). Bébian found
himself involved in the creation of a writing system called Mimography (Lane, 1984a). The term
was apparently chosen to reflect Natural Sign’s ‘mimetic’ characterization involving hand
movements. Bébian published work on Mimography in 1817 and 1820 (Lane, 1984b;
alternatively 1825 as reported in Rée, 1999). Bébian can be described as belonging to a new
generation of educators that were ready to pursue the concept of signed language reading. While
the Paris school for the deaf was established in the 1760s, several decades passed before Bébian
came into the picture and the signed language movement began.
In all of the ideas and actions that followed, Bébian did not consider how deaf children
could best learn and master written French. There is no report in the literature about French
educators recognizing the need for an intermediary system, for example. Although deaf children
might learn to read in Natural Sign, they would still need to move towards learning and
mastering written French. The idea of a conventional writing system for Natural Sign is feasible,
but then deaf children would learn to read in their own language only. They could not repeat the
reading process with French due to its status as a spoken language. For French educators, signed
language literacy was new at the time. They wanted to focus on the basic idea that deaf children
have the opportunity to read in Natural Sign. Any consideration of instructional design for cross-
linguistic reading was lacking at the time.
In the United States, any form of contemporaneous signed language reading was
curiously absent. There are a few reasons for this. Bébian’s publications with Mimography took
place after the deaf Frenchman, Laurent Clerc emigrated to the United States to work with the
American collaborator, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to found the first permanent school for the
deaf in Hartford, Connecticut in 1817. It can be said that American deaf education continued the
direction that had taken place in France prior to Bébian’s work (e.g., by favoring signing as a
medium for instruction with deaf children). Moreover, one unfortunate situation for Bébian in
France hampered the transfer of ideas from that country to the United States. Bébian was
distraught over how the French school for the deaf was run, and his protests led to his dismissal
(Lane, 1984b). The loss of Bébian’s leadership was profound as signed language reading ceased
to be a force.
The divisions among educators that began to emerge in France and elsewhere in the
world did not help with the consideration and development of signed language reading. Natural
Sign and signing were losing their favored position. The field of deaf education became
polarized with oralism vs. manualism as reported in the literature. Educators who advocated
oralism favored the use of spoken language with deaf children in the classroom and were in
opposition to manualism (which favored the use of signed language; Moores, 1996). This led to
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
38
the idea that Bébian’s focus on reading in Natural Sign may have unintentionally contributed to
the rise of oralism. It appears educators were frustrated with the lack of attention on how deaf
children could become literate in French. Bébian was fully aware of bilingualism taking place in
his school (with Natural Sign and French), but he did not pursue pedagogy for deaf children
becoming literate in French as they did in Natural Sign. Oralism offered these educators a sense
of direction by adopting what is normally pursued with hearing children. Deaf children would
have to learn to speak and hopefully reading would follow, regardless of how counterintuitive
that may be.
Bébian’s unique accomplishment with Mimography merits some discussion. Rée (1999)
provided information about this writing system. Since Bébian was a fluent signer (in addition to
the fact that he could hear), he was intuitively aware of the word structure for Natural Sign. As
part of helping create Mimography, the French educator “decompose[d] [signs] into combination
of elementary gestures, just as spoken words are analy[z]ed, in alphabetic writing, as sequences
of elementary sounds” (p. 298). Signs or signed words organized in terms of the handshape and
movement parameters were considered analogous to vowels and consonants of the alphabet. A
total of 150 graphemes were created to help write signs by the thousands.
The mention of how the written sequences of elementary gestures for Mimography
parallel those of elementary sounds with an alphabetic system representing a spoken language
demands attention. The choice of the term ‘gesture’ appears unusual. By definition, gestures are
part of gesticulation that speakers frequently use in addition to speaking. Pointing to something
or depicting a shape of something through the use of the hands is not the same as what Bébian
attempted with Mimography. Mimography used more refined components of signs in the form of
handshapes and movements, for example. Sound might have been a better term (vs. gesture) as it
accounts for the abstract components that make up a word either in the signed or spoken form.
It is interesting to note that contemporary Deaf culture experts, Carol Padden and Tom
Humphries devoted a chapter in their seminal 1988 book, Deaf in America: Voices from a
Culture, to the concept of sound concerning deaf people. Silence is hearing people’s perception
that mischaracterizes deaf people’s lives. It was described as “clumsy and inadequate as a way of
explaining what [d]eaf people know and do” (p. 109). Deaf people “are far from silent but very
loudly click, buzz, swish, pop, roar, and whir” (p. 109). Padden and Humphries went on to
explain that poetry in signed language “shows how movement, as well as sound, can express
notions like harmony, dissonance, resonance” (p. 108).
Several decades have passed since Padden and Humphries’ book publication, and an
updated use of sound for the visual modality is necessary for this paper. Even with the
enlightened association of ASL with human language, deafness seems to define reading more
than it should. For example, a group of deaf education experts have claimed that sounds, phonics,
phonemic awareness, reading-aloud, and sounding out are for hearing children only and should
not be part of deaf education (Simms, Andrews, & Smith, 2005). Signed language reading has
not been relevant to deaf education experts (or in the field of deaf education as a whole). While
experts may support ASL, they seem to have created constraints on how reading should be
pursued for deaf children. The exclusion of important reading development features as strictly
auditory phenomenon is an unfortunate (literal) interpretation when it should be more abstract
and universally generalized. Unwarranted power is being given to spoken language as the only
source for reading (also see Petitto, Langdon, Stone, Andriola, Kartheiser, & Cochran, 2016 for
arguments regarding reading with deaf children based on the notion that ASL is a soundless
language).
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
39
Embracing sound in the visual modality for this paper promises to help educators ‘think
outside the box’ and become receptive to the idea of signed language reading. All languages
have abstract sound elements, some are auditory and some are visual in nature. This
interpretation creates a link for young deaf readers who need signed language-based phonology
as a crucial element for fully experiencing the human reading process. More discussion on this
will follow in connection with glossing later in this paper. Returning to Bébian, he was, by all
accounts, a remarkable educator who saw something of value in signed language reading. He
was bold in creating Mimography, with the assumption that deaf children are much like hearing
children. While reading takes place in an entirely different language modality (i.e., signed), the
underlying principles for reading remain the same.
While the concept of Mimography has merit, the system which was developed faced
some deficiencies. There are conditions to consider for the creation of writing systems,
especially those belonging to the alphabetic type. An ideal alphabet would have a small number
of graphemes, for example (i.e., 20 to 35; Havelock, 1976). Mimography has a very large
number of graphemes, which is not a good feature (S. Supalla, McKee, & Cripps, 2014).
Supporting this, one deaf education expert wrote in the 1850s that Bébian’s writing system “was
so cumbersome as to be almost unusable; but at the same time it was not refined enough to
distinguish between different signs (Rée, 1999, p. 304). Such observation also suggested that
the lack of knowledge associated with modern signed language linguistics during Bébian’s time
may have played a role. For example, there is strong agreement among linguists that signed
words are made up of three phonological parameters, handshape, location, and movement (e.g.,
Brentari, 1995, 2002; Zeshan, 2002). If these three parameters were included in Mimography
(and not just the handshape and the movement), there may have been a more successful writing
system developed.
A Comeback for Signed Language Reading
The research climate for embracing signed language reading is ripe, for several reasons.
But before proceeding, it is necessary to discuss terminology. The name, Natural Sign is no
longer suitable. After Natural Sign was brought to the United States from France (through the
work of Clerc and Gallaudet), it became linguistically distinct over time. Consequently, the
language of deaf children living in the United States has an updated name, that is, American Sign
Language. While French Sign Language continues in France (see T. Supalla & Clark, 2015 for
the historical emergence of ASL as a language), any discussion of signed language reading in the
United States needs to refer to ASL. Until the 1970s, ASL was written off as a human language
for a perceived lack of linguistic principles, which can be seen as a block for any serious
consideration associated with signed language reading. However, that has changed. ASL has
won recognition as a legitimate human language owing to extensive research led by linguists in
recent decades (Meier, 2002; see Sandler & Lillo-Martin, 2006 for an in-depth discussion on the
linguistic structure of ASL). The common terminology in linguistics such as phonology,
morphology, and syntax have been successfully extended to the signed language modality.
This points out the importance of reading terminology becoming common to signed
language as well. Important reading development features such as sounds, phonics, phonemic
awareness, reading-aloud, and sounding out need to be fully understood in terms of deaf readers
in order to help legitimize signed language reading. Likewise, research on language acquisition
has produced insights that have confirmed the legitimacy of ASL. Humans are endowed with the
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
40
ability to acquire and master language. They are active learners when languages are real and
meaningful to them and the language learning experience is effortless and without any formal
instruction. Deaf children are no exception to that rule. They must have control over the
linguistic input, a condition which is achieved with a signed language, where hearing capacity is
not a prerequisite (see Newport & Meier, 1985 for an overview on ASL acquisition studies; also
Schick, 2011). Denying deaf children access to ASL has been suggested by scholars to be a
practice that is harmful and that must be stopped (e.g., Humphries, Kushalnagar, Mathur, Napoli,
Padden, & Rathmann, 2012; see S. Supalla & Cripps, 2008 for further discussion of the linguistic
accessibility concept).
For the record, many researchers and scholars outside the field of deaf education have
freely discussed the idea of a writing system for ASL (e.g., Hopkins, 2008; Miller, 2001; Reagan,
2006; Turner, 2009; van der Hulst & Channon, 2010). Written language is considered a valuable
asset for many spoken languages around the world. The same benefits apply to ASL (Grushkin,
2017), but the education establishment needs to rally around teaching literacy skills to deaf
children based on the concept of linguistic accessibility (i.e., deaf children must learn to read in
ASL, not English). Further, among the lessons learned from history is that deaf children should
not be confined to learning to read in ASL only. The solution can be found in glossing, which
has a specific way of handling written ASL in a way which helps deaf children decode and
pursue English literacy.
Perhaps the most powerful pressure for pursuing signed language reading lies in society’s
push towards best reading instruction practices for all children. Deaf children are seen as part of
a larger agenda for literacy. The public opinion favoring accountability is strong, which includes
the understanding that deaf children cannot continue to struggle in becoming fluent readers (e.g.,
Marschark, Lang, & Albertini, 2002; Traxler, 2000). Of relevance for this paper is how some
scholars have pointed to the importance of aligning the curriculum, instruction, and assessment
to help children learn to read more successfully (Elliott, Braden, & White, 2001; Roach, Neibling,
& Kurz, 2008). These scholars may not have any direct affiliation with deaf education, but the
deep underlying problem with American education appears to have been identified. That is,
curriculum, instruction, and assessment have been rigidly maintained, regardless of what the
children need. Any pursuit of signed language reading with deaf children will require a
significant amount of alignment to curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
The path for pursuing signed language reading, especially in the form of an intermediary
system linking ASL and English literacy, is wide open according to Wauters and de Klerk
(2014):
...[deaf] students in bilingual education settings, learning to read coincides with
learning the language that they are reading in, and maybe even with learning their
first language, sign language (Hermans, Knoors, Ormel, & Verhoeven, 2008;
Hoffmeister, 2000; Markshark & Harris, 1996). Learning to read in a second
language is a challenge in itself, but even more so when the learner has little
access to the spoken form of that second language that is the basis of the writing
system he must learn to tackle. We do not know how deaf readers make the
connection between the languages they encounter (Easterbrooks & Beal-Alvarez,
2013). (p. 243)
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
41
This admission that deaf education experts made in regard to the lack of pedagogical reading
knowledge for deaf children is noteworthy (see also Hoffmeister & Caldwell-Harris, 2014 for a
similar admission for the lack of a method). However, they overlooked the fact that a charter
school in Arizona had already put together what is known as the glossing approach to reading
instruction. While traditional settings for deaf education include either schools for the deaf or
programs in regular public schools that serve deaf children, it is easy to understand how charter
schools may not be seen as credible or 'part of the system'.
Yet charter schools were expected to explore and test new ideas (Finn, Jr., Manno, &
Vanourek, 2000). Signed language reading was identified as an innovation worthy of exploration
at the Arizona charter school. The Arizona Board of Charter Schools reviewed the application
and approved it leading to the school’s founding in 1996. For financial reasons, the charter
school could not continue after six years of operation. This did not stop a substantial amount of
research and scholarly work from being published.
At the time of the Arizona charter school’s founding, both educators and researchers at
the charter school had full knowledge of ASL writing systems in existence (Newkirk, 1987;
Sutton, 1999). However, glossing was adopted at the school, which ultimately set it on a
different course. It is important to understand that glossing is not new nor is it confined to the
education of deaf children. To demonstrate the long history associated with glossing, Roby
(1999) wrote:
…early glosses, interlinear or marginal scribblings, were learner-generated.
Medieval students struggling with a foreign text (usually Latin) produced them as
they worked along. Glosses as teaching aids came later, followed by their
eventual codification into word lists (glossaries) and then dictionaries. (p. 94)
The reading challenge that medieval students faced with Latin is comparable to deaf
children with English literacy. Latin was a ‘dead language’, meaning it was no longer spoken
(which was historically true after the fall of the Roman Empire). The medieval students did not
have an opportunity to hear Latin and use that knowledge for reading development purposes.
These students found themselves scribbling down information on how to best read Latin. It is
such interlinear translation that allowed the medieval students to write about how the structure
and grammar of Latin compared to the language that they knew. It is easy to imagine how other
students could read the gloss passages to help learn to read Latin. More discussion on this for
how glossing applies to deaf children’s learning will follow in the next section.
In addition, the modern use of glossaries and dictionaries which help students who can
hear and know English points to the universal benefits associated with glossing. Native English
speaking students who are already literate often encounter unknown ‘big words’ in print. They
are provided with the opportunity to look up definitions and understand the individual words’
meanings in a dictionary. Second language learners of English have a similar option with
glossing as well. The three well-known types of glossing for this group of students are: 1)
synonyms, 2) encyclopedic comments, and 3) grammatical notes (Roby, 1999). The description
of glossing as “a common and acceptable aid for many foreign language textbooks” (Lomicka,
1998, p. 41) should be noted. From what has been discussed for glossing thus far, it appears that
the primary function of glossing is to make text clear. Deaf children are entitled to glossing as
English text is unclear and unreadable.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
42
Making English Readable for Deaf Children
As expected for curriculum, instruction, and assessment alignment, the glossing approach
adopted at the Arizona charter school had an impact on what reading materials looked like, how
a teacher taught reading skills, and how deaf children’s reading skills were assessed. The
educators and researchers were sensitive to the fact that deaf children enrolled at the charter
school were young and had not yet learned to read (e.g., kindergartners). Recall that medieval
students would read gloss passages attached to Latin text. The medieval students were older and
accomplished readers. They read in their own language to learn about Latin. No truly
intermediary system is in use here. This is where the idea of doing more by glossing the English
text itself emerged at the charter school. The English text was manipulated to the point that it
resembled ASL’s morpho-syntactic structure. To distinguish an ASL text from that of a regular
text, the printed English words or roots are fully capitalized. The ordering of words in a given
sentence may be changed (as ASL has a flexible word order as compared to English). A set of
conventions were created to help fully represent ASL’s grammatical structure by using an
underline or a symbol attached to the beginning or end of a basic English word or root, for
example.
True to the objective of glossing, the English text is made clear to deaf children through
the necessary manipulation. The children at the charter school could read the text word by word
when it was consistent with ASL morphologically and syntactically. It is important to note that
text manipulation has been recognized as a way of improving reading performance for all
children. Ralabate (2011) explained that text manipulation is critical for improving the reading
outcomes of students with disabilities. For whatever reading difficulties there may be, the text
itself can be problematic and manipulation can make all the difference.
Hundreds of gloss books were created at the charter school, derived from children’s
literature and basal readers. It is now necessary to explain what gloss text looks like exactly. The
basis for creating gloss text is interlinear translation. The English sentence example below
showing before and after manipulation will help clarify the technique:
Before Manipulation: The dog is chasing the cat.
After Manipulation: DOG NOW CHASE>IX=3 CAT
S. Supalla and Cripps (2011) produced the sentence examples above and provided a
detailed description of how glossing took place with the original English sentence as follows:
[The gloss sentence] depicts four English words all capitalized to represent the
four signs produced as an equivalent of the English sentence composed of the six
words… [s]tructurally, no definite article is used in the ASL gloss sentence,
which is correct for the signed language. The ASL gloss sentence also indicates a
rough equivalence of the present progressive tense in English, with the insertion
of NOW as a separate word (or “time sign”) before the verb. In addition, the ASL
verb CHASE undergoes a third person object agreement inflection (i.e., the
movement of the verb is [modified] to agree with the location of the cat in the
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
43
signing space) with the attachment of the gloss convention >IX=3 to the verb
representing inflection in the sentence. (p. 4)
What has been discussed so far relates to the sentence level. The educators and
researchers at the charter school took into consideration the fact that the gloss text includes the
use of English words. A hearing child would sound out or decode an unfamiliar word in print to
help with his or her reading comprehension. Clearly, deaf children cannot do this task, but those
at the charter school were provided with a way to identify English words in the gloss text. This is
where a supporting component of the glossing approach comes in, called The Resource Book
(RB). The RB works like a bilingual dictionary with thousands of English words paired with the
ASL equivalents written in what is called the ASL-phabet.
With the gloss sentence, DOG NOW CHASE>IX=3 CAT, a young deaf child reading
this sentence might be able to identify all words except for CAT. The child could then use the
RB to locate the word and then read the ASL equivalent next to it. The written sign for CAT is:
B2be.! S. Supalla and Cripps explained the details associated with this written sign as
follows:
In the ASL equivalent for CAT, the grapheme in the furthest left slot refers to the
handshape seen in Figure [1] below, the next grapheme refers to the location of
where the sign is produced (i.e., on the cheek), and the last graphemes refer to the
movements made (i.e., b=!straight path and e = repeated). (p. 7)
Figure 1: The sign for CAT
Here the deaf child could sound out the sign and learn the meaning of the English word. The
child can then read and comprehend the gloss sentence (i.e., the dog is chasing a cat, not a rabbit,
for example) and move on to reading other sentences. As demonstrated here, the RB makes a
clear connection between English words and their ASL equivalents.
In comparison to what was discussed for Mimography, it becomes clear that the ASL-
phabet is designed for the word level only, not sentences or text (as done with the French system).
Moreover, the ASL-phabet accounts for three phonological parameters of handshape, location,
and movement (which can be seen as an improvement). The number of graphemes for the ASL-
phabet, this time, falls in line with what was discussed above for an ideal alphabet. The ASL-
phabet has 32 graphemes in use (i.e., 20 graphemes for the handshape parameter, 5 for the
location parameter, and 5 for the movement parameter). Aggressive grouping of handshapes
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
44
within single graphemes played a key role, which helped dramatically reduce the number of
graphemes in comparison to Mimography. The same holds true for the location and movement
parameters (see S. Supalla et al., 2014 for further discussion on the ASL-phabet as a system).
Teachers at the Arizona charter school found themselves teaching phonics in ASL owing
to some phonological ambiguity in how signs are written based on the ASL-phabet. For example,
the handshape grapheme for CAT, B represents two handshapes, not one. As shown in Figure 2,
these two handshapes are closely related sounds with a slight difference in how the hand is
shaped. Deaf children at the school were taught about sound representation in the handshape
parameter. The same holds true for the location parameter. While the location grapheme for CAT
is 2 (as the sign is produced on the cheek), other signs produced on the mouth or on the chin
will use the same location grapheme. The grapheme 2 represents a more general location area
of the cheek, mouth, and chin. Similar types of phonics lessons were taught on movement for the
ASL-phabet as well. Since deaf children were expected to use the RB on a regular basis, they
had to understand how the ASL-phabet worked and teaching phonics was critical for their
success.
Figure 2: Two handshapes (one with rounded and one with pinched fingers) grouped for
the representation of a single grapheme for the ASL-phabet
Some of the overall positive impacts of the glossing approach for reading instruction
were discussed in S. Supalla, Cripps, and Byrne (2017) as follows:
Since [deaf] children can sign word for word [via gloss text], it is easy for the
teacher to see if they are reading with accuracy, for example. The teacher can also
monitor whether these children use [the RB] any time they encounter unfamiliar
English words in print. This allows the teacher to see how the children fare with
reading the ASL equivalents written in the ASL-phabet. The teacher’s guidance
on reading written signs will strengthen the deaf child’s decoding skills. The same
holds true for modeling deaf children on how to best read a gloss text with a wide
range of conventions in use. One way or another, these children’s reading
comprehension will be boosted. Fluency will ultimately develop with practice
opportunities provided along with the teacher’s coaching efforts. (p. 546)
Thanks to the liberal application of key concepts for reading processes, educators and
researchers at the charter school were able to foster natural skills in learning to read. While skill
in making the English-based letter and sound relationships was not part of the reading instruction
design at the school, deaf children were provided an opportunity to do this in an alternative
fashion. They were encouraged to study ASL phonology in terms of handshapes, locations, and
movements and connect them with the ASL-phabet graphemes or ASL letters. The skills
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
45
associated with the ASL-phabet were treated as comparable to how the alphabetic principle is
taught to students who can hear with English (S. Supalla & Blackburn, 2003).
The reading instruction curriculum, materials and teaching at the charter school included
opportunities for deaf children to develop phonemic awareness in ASL (as part of their
preparation for learning to read words in ASL). Kindergartners were exposed to ASL nursery
rhymes as produced by accomplished signers on videotapes readily available on the market. The
ASL Parent-child Mother Goose Program: American Sign Language Rhymes, Rhythms and
Stories for Parents and their Children produced by the Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf
(2004) serves as a good example. One of the songs was rhymed throughout the production via
one particular handshape. Deaf children exposed to the handshape-based rhyme were expected to
develop awareness about that particular handshape.
Turning to how deaf children at the charter school experienced transition from ASL to
English literacy, it is necessary to remember they were reading gloss books and using the RB on
a regular basis to access meanings of the individual English words. This is precisely the way that
deaf children developed a strong English vocabulary base. The English books were more
readable to these children as the words were the same as found in the gloss books (e.g., cat vs.
CAT, dog vs. DOG, and chase vs. CHASE). The benefits associated with the shared spelling and
orthography of the gloss and regular texts form the basis for the initial transition from ASL to
English literacy (S. Supalla & Cripps, 2011).
A complete transition to English literacy is realized when deaf children participate in
another supporting component called Comparative Analysis. Children initially read a gloss book
(and use the RB whenever necessary) and participate in different activities around that book. The
teacher then introduces the children to the gloss and regular versions for observation and analysis
(e.g., the gloss version: DOG NOW CHASE>IX=3 CAT with the English version: The dog is
chasing the cat). With the help of the transparency between the gloss and regular texts, deaf
children can study what is structurally similar and different between ASL and English and focus
on learning the grammatical features that are specific to English.
The learning of English for deaf children at the charter school was repeated with one
book after another, along with increasing text complexity over time. Teachers at this school
appreciated the fact that the less complex texts for younger readers coincided with rudimentary
English structures to learn. The older readers could review what they learned and study the new
and more complex structures over time. This resulted in the scaffolding of the English language
skills that deaf children needed to learn and master over time (S. Supalla & Cripps, 2011).
By the fourth grade, deaf children at the charter school were expected to read to learn
(rather than learn to read). They needed to demonstrate their reading performance through
assessment. One example of information gathered from deaf children is how well they read aloud
a gloss text with their performance measured through what is known as running records (Clay,
2000). Deaf children were asked to read the English text silently, and answer a set of
comprehension questions. With a good or satisfactory level of performance with ASL and
English, the glossing approach for reading instruction would cease. At that point, deaf children
would be reading in English and continue using ASL for communicative purposes in the
classroom (see S. Supalla & Blackburn, 2003 for the further discussion on the phasing out of the
glossing approach).
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
46
Some Indications of Signed Language Reading
To begin with, adequate signed language reading research has never been presented on
Mimography. Bébian did report on deaf children’s performance with reading in French Sign
Language when he described the writing system’s success as questionable. Rée (1999) wrote that
“...Bébian’s own claim that the 150 characters of [M]imography could be mastered by a deaf
signer within ‘eight or ten days’ had a quality of crazed desperation...” (p. 301). The earlier
discussion of the internal problems with the French Sign Language writing system suggests that
the French effort with signed language reading should not be pursued. The fact that multiple
research publications have been produced in regard to signed language reading at the American
charter school is most welcoming. This includes valuable data on how well deaf children
perform in reading gloss text, as it is unconventional and has no precedence in the general
literature on glossing. A variety of reading behaviors to follow that deaf children have
demonstrated are promising.
The first known publication on signed language reading with deaf children in the United
States is the S. Supalla, Wix, and McKee paper (2001). The data is descriptive in nature. Deaf
kindergarteners at the charter school learning to read their name signs written in the ASL-phabet
were subject to videotaping for later analysis. The description of the particular classroom activity
led by the teacher is:
The teacher showed one card at a time and asked the class who the written name
referred to. The students recognized their names by looking at the first two
graphemes (i.e., handshape and location information). They signed their names to
indicate that they recognized the written names. The students were clearly
engaged in the activity. (p. 9)
The authors of the paper went on to write:
…deaf students ‘read’ words with only partial information (i.e., handshape-
location/symbol relationships) and the context of a name-reading exercise. This is
comparable to the kinds of early success that hearing kindergartners get when first
identifying consonant sound/symbol relationships in the context of words they are
learning. At the [Arizona charter school], such activities show the beginning
development of metalinguistic awareness for ASL signs. [Teachers] start children
on the handshape and location graphemes in kindergarten and first grade.
Movement graphemes are mastered first through third grade levels. (pp. 9-10)
The detailed nature of how skills were taught at the charter school supported the Arizona
Academic Standards’ reading component, which dictates that kindergartners begin identifying
words in print through consonants (whereas vowels are more difficult to learn and master). It is
interesting to note that the teachers at the charter school were not sure how to teach deaf children
in reading signs at first. The children’s learning patterns ultimately shaped the instruction design
with the ASL-phabet. The handshape-location/symbol relationships were easier to learn as
compared to the movement/symbol relationships, thus the former was seen as involving
consonants and the latter vowels. There is support for such a signed word structure in the ASL
linguistics community. Diane Brentari, a well-known and highly reputable linguist presented an
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
47
argument in a 2002 paper about the existence of consonants and vowels in ASL words. The
combined handshape and location information of a given sign falls under the consonant category
while the movement information is considered the vowel category.
Recall that, with Mimography, Bébian treated the handshape information of French signs
as the consonant equivalent and the movement as the vowel equivalent. While the distinction
between consonants and vowels that contemporary scholars and researchers are pursuing is more
refined (by accounting for the combined handshape and location information, not just the
handshape information), the basic distinction between the handshape parameter and that of
movement is still true for both systems, the ASL-phabet and Mimography. At the time when the
ASL-phabet was developed at the Arizona charter school, educators and researchers were not
aware of these details associated with Mimography. The consonants and vowels in signed words
identified uniformly among the different educators and researchers during contemporary times
stretching back to the early nineteenth century suggests that the credibility of such understanding
for signed word structure is strong.
S. Supalla et al. (2014) provided additional insights on signed language reading at the
word level. The data, this time, involves an older (9 years old) deaf child. This child was a
student at the Arizona charter school and participated in a tutorial during one summer. The child
was required to look at a set of four flashcards held by the tutor. On each flashcard was the
written sign for ‘correct’, ‘on’, ‘day’ and ‘long’. The written signs were unfamiliar to the child.
The child was asked to read each word and tell what it was. The tutor explained to the child that
he would only tell whether the response was correct or incorrect. If not correct, the child was
encouraged to try to read the word again to hopefully come up with the correct sign. The choice
for what sign to come up with was wide open. The task was quite challenging, but thought to be
appropriate for the older child.
According to the data, this child was successful with the written sign ‘long’. She read the
word and responded with the correct sign. In the process of decoding what the ASL word was,
the child moved her hands ‘in the air’ trying to come up with the correct sign. One could tell that
the child took into consideration the consonant and vowel information in print. With the three
other written signs, the child was less successful. She responded with incorrect signs before
signing the correct word. In the deaf child’s ‘failed’ responses, the signs were all close to the
target sign phonologically. The child was trying her best to come up with the correct sign based
on what she read on the card.
While the deaf child discussed thus far was not fluent with reading written signs, she did
read all of the words written on the cards when given another chance:
The flashcard activity included one more stop, which was reviewing the four
words with the child. When the tutor mixed the order of the four words and
showed them to the child again, she responded correctly to all words. Regardless
of the fact that the child had most trouble with [‘correct’]. She read it perfectly
during the review of the four words. (p. 15)
The assessment method in the paper by Cripps and S. Supalla (2004) is somewhat
different. This time, a well-known vocabulary test was given to deaf children participating in the
study. The word items in the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (Dunn & Dunn, 1981;
Jongsma, 1982; Kipps & Hanson, 1983) were converted from spoken to print to allow deaf
children to see the words (instead of hearing them). The two deaf children participating in the
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
48
study were instructed to go through a list of English words and respond to each word by pointing
to the correct picture out of four in a booklet. The children were provided with the Resource
Book or RB to help with their English word identification. They were instructed to use the RB at
all times regardless of whether they knew the English word or not.
It is important to keep in mind that the two deaf children who participated in the study
differed in age and schooling experience. The first child was Lucy (pseudonym) who was 6:11
years old, and the second child was Barb (again a pseudonym) who was 9:11 years old. Lucy
enrolled at the Arizona charter school at the age of 4 and had been taught at this school for three
years. Barb was with the charter school for two years. Prior to transferring to the charter school,
she was in a traditional school for the deaf (where the glossing approach of reading instruction
was not implemented).
According to Cripps and S. Supalla, Lucy “began the test at the 10th vocabulary item,
reading...[s]he reached the ceiling at the 49th vocabulary item, coin (p. 105). What is important
for this paper is that the majority of English words were identified successfully: “Lucy looked up
a total of 38 words using [the RB]. She produced 30 correct answers out of the 38 vocabulary
items (or 72%). She could not identify 8 English words after reading the ASL equivalents in [the
RB]” (p. 105).
Barb began the test at the 30th vocabulary item, whale. She reached the ceiling at the
90th vocabulary item, triplet. As with Lucy, Barb identified a majority of the English words in
the test successfully. This child did not use the RB consistently, however. The following
discussion of her performance will clarify the differences:
Barb looked up a total of 51 words using [the RB] out of 59 vocabulary items (or
86%). With the 51 words, she produced 32 correct answers (or 62%). She could
not identify 19 English words after reading the ASL equivalent[s] in [the RB]. (p.
105)
Barb’s level of English word identification performance is lower in comparison to Lucy’s
(62% vs. 72%). Given that Barb is older, she should have performed better than Lucy. The fact
that Barb transferred to the charter school and had a shorter time of exposure to its aligned
curriculum and instruction appears to be a factor.
Cripps and S. Supalla’s study includes the finding that both Barb and Lucy outperformed
what was normed for deaf children. With the deaf normative study done by Bunch and Forde
(1987), the Peabody Vocabulary Test-Revised was subject to the same modification (i.e., the
target words converted from spoken to print), without the RB in use. In comparison to the
normed scores for the different ages of deaf children, Barb and Lucy, who had access to the RB,
did far better in the identification of English words. This can be attributed to their making
associations with ASL.
In S. Supalla et al. (2017), the focus is on reading at the sentence level. One 9-year-old
child participated in the study, and she read aloud a gloss passage (in ASL), which was
reproduced in the paper. Specifically, running records were utilized with the child reading the
gloss passage matching her age. A word count formula was created for ASL to help with
effective computation (being sensitive not just to counting signs in a given sentence, but for other
features such as facial syntactic markers and classifier constructions). The child’s oral reading
performance was found to be at the instructional level. The age-appropriate gloss text was not
too difficult or too easy. The child was capable of reading, but not yet an independent or fluent
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
49
reader. She read the gloss passage with accuracy for the most part. Some predictable reading
behaviors such as skipping a word and making a self-correction occurred, but they were not
enough to hamper the reading process. The child used the RB once for an unfamiliar word that
she encountered, which was IN-A-HURRY. The English word identification was successful, and
the child signed the word and continued reading the rest of the gloss passage.
Closing Remarks
The research reports for deaf children using the glossing approach for reading instruction
at the word and sentence levels have ramifications for the field of deaf education. The various
reading behaviors point to the reality of signed language reading. The skills are measurable or
observable, at least preliminarily. The key concepts associated with sounds, phonics, phonemic
awareness, reading-aloud, and sounding out are internal to signed language reading. It is
important to keep in mind that the research reports discussed in this paper cover the glossing
approach to reading instruction partially. What has yet to be discussed (based on the data) is how
deaf children experience a full transition to English literacy through the perusal of comparative
analysis and the teaching of English language lessons on regular basis. This component is
integral to the glossing approach as much as the gloss books and the RB. A future paper will
need to include the comparative analysis lessons as taught in the classroom and demonstrate how
deaf children participate and learn about English.
In addition, any coverage on how deaf children make progress with signed language-
based reading skills over time is lacking. Publishing a doctoral dissertation work on this topic
(Cripps, 2008) will be an important step, as the results can be positive and insightful. For now,
while the number of deaf students whose data is included in this paper is small, it is still
appropriate for understanding the feasibility of signed language reading. As a whole, the signed
language reading research is in its infancy, yet primed for expansion.
The importance of signed language reading cannot be further emphasized. Easterbrooks
(2010) explained that "the evidence base in deaf education tends to be woefully lacking" (p. 111)
is a serious matter. Because reading has been equated with spoken language, teachers of the deaf
are stymied in what they can do about reading instruction. This environment is not conducive to
creating or gathering evidence for best practices when reading is tied to hearing ability. With this
paper, deaf education experts can now consider the glossing approach for teaching reading to
deaf children, especially with its cross-linguistic features. The notion of deaf children using ASL
to decode English (as part of becoming literate in a language they do not hear) is attractive in its
own right. This option exceeds what reading theories offer (as they focus on how children
become literate in one language at a time). Shaping the education of deaf children based on what
hearing children experience with reading is inappropriate and restrictive. Reading theories need
to account for all children, including those who are deaf and have a unique way of learning and
mastering English literacy.
In retrospect, the basic idea of signed language reading first attempted in nineteenth
century France where deaf children learned to read in French Sign Language is something that
all teachers of the deaf should know and appreciate. The resurgence of signed language reading
as reported for a charter school in the United States centers on a more complex framework
connecting ASL to English literacy. This is where text manipulation comes into the picture and
becomes the key component of signed language reading. The curriculum, instruction, and
assessment alignment is also found to be necessary to ensure that deaf children experience a
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
50
meaningful reading methodology. It is hoped that in the near future, glossing as a reading
methodology and its different tools and procedures including gloss books, the RB, and
comparative analysis lessons can prove themselves as a staple in the education of deaf children.
No longer would these children be plagued by reading difficulties, but perhaps their exposure to
signed language-based teachings can clear a path towards English literacy.
References
Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.
Brentari, D. (1995). Sign language phonology: ASL. In J. Goldsmith (Ed.), A handbook of
phonological theory (pp. 615-639). New York, NY: Basil Blackwell.
Brentari, D. (2002). Modality differences in sign language phonology and morphophonemics. In
R. P. Meier, K. Cormier, & D. Quinto-Pozos (Eds.), Modality and structure in signed and
spoken languages (pp. 35-64). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Bunch, G. O., & Forde, J. (1987). Pilot standardization of the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-
Revised on hearing impaired subjects. A.C.E.H.I. Journal, 12(3), 165-170.
Clay, M. M. (2000). Running records for classroom teachers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Cripps, J. H. (2008). A case study on reading processes of signing deaf children (Unpublished
doctoral dissertation). University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.
Cripps, J. H., & Supalla, S. J. (2004). Modifications to the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test for
use with deaf students. Arizona Working Papers in Second Language Acquisition and
Teaching, 11, 93-113. Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona.
Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. (1981). Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised manual for
Forms L and M. Circle Pines, MN: American Guidance Service, Inc.
Easterbrooks, S. R. (2010). Evidence-based curricula and practices that support development of
reading skills. In M. Marschark & P. E. Spencer (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of deaf
studies, language, and education (Vol. 2, pp. 111-126). New York, NY: The Oxford
University Press.
Easterbrooks, S. R., & Beal-Alvarez, J. (2013). Literacy instruction for students who are deaf
and hard of hearing. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Elliott, S. N., Braden, J. P., & White, J. L. (2001). Assessing one and all: Educational
accountability for students with disabilities. Arlington, VA: Council Exceptional
Children.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
51
Finn, C. E., Jr., Manno, B. V., & Vanourek, G. (2000). Charter schools in action: Renewing
public education. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Goldin-Meadow, S., & Mayberry, R. I. (2001). How do profoundly deaf children learn to read?
Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(4), 222-229.
Grabe, W. (2009). Reading in a second language: Moving from theory to practice. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press.
Grushkin, D. A. (2017). Writing signed languages: What for? What form? American Annals of
the Deaf, 161(5), 509-527.
Havelock, E. (1976). Origins of Western literacy. The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
Monograph Series, 14.
Hermans, D., Knoors, H., Ormel, E., & Verhoeven, L. (2008). The relationship between the
reading and signing skills of deaf children in bilingual education programs. Journal of
Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 13(4), 518-530.
Hoffmeister, R. J. (2000). A piece of puzzle: ASL and reading comprehension in deaf children.
In C. Chamberlain, J. P. Morford, & R. I. Mayberry (Eds.), Language acquisition by eye
(pp. 143-163). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Hoffmeister, R. J., & Caldwell-Harris, C. L. (2014). Acquiring English as a second language via
print: The task for deaf children. Cognition, 132(2), 229-242.
Hoover, W. A., & Gough, P. G. (1990). The simple view of reading. Reading and Writing: An
Interdisciplinary Journal, 2(2), 127-160.
Hopkins, J. (2008). Choosing how to write sign language: A sociolinguistic perspective.
International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 192, 75-89.
Humphries, T., Kushalnagar, P., Mathur, G., Napoli, D. J., Padden, C., Rathmann, C., & Smith,
S. R. (2012). Language acquisition for deaf children: Reducing the harms of zero
tolerance to the use of alternative approaches. Harm Reduction Journal, 9(16).
Jongsma, E. A. (1982). Test review: Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R).
Journal of Reading, 25(4), 360-364.
Kipps, D., & Hanson, D. (1983). Test review: The revised PPVT. School Psychology Review,
12(1), 112-113.
Koda, K. (2005). Insights into second language reading: A cross-linguistic approach.
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
52
Lane, H. (Ed.). (1984a). The deaf experience: Classics in language and education (F. Phillips,
Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Lane, H. (1984b). When the mind hears: A history of the deaf. New York, NY: First Vintage
Books.
Lane, H., Hoffmeister, R., & Bahan, B. (1996). A journey into the deaf-world. San Diego, CA:
DawnSignPress.
Lomicka, L. L. (1998). “To gloss or not to gloss”: An investigation of reading comprehension
online. Language Learning & Technology, 1(2), 41-50.
Markshark, M., & Harris, M. (1996). Success and failure in learning to read: The special (?) case
of deaf children. In C. Cornoldi & J. Oakhill (Eds.), Reading comprehension difficulties:
Processes and intervention (pp. 279-300). Hillside, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Marschark, M., Lang, H. G., & Albertini, J. A. (2002). Educating deaf students: From research
to practice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Mayer, C., & Wells, G. (1996). Can the linguistic interdependence theory support a bilingual-
bicultural model of literacy education for deaf students? Journal of Deaf Studies and
Deaf Education, 1(2), 93-107.
Meier, R. P. (2002). Why different, why the same? Explaining the effects and non-effects of
modality upon linguistic structure in sign and speech. In R. P. Meier, K. Cormier, & D.
Quinto-Pozos (Eds.), Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages (pp. 1-26).
Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, C. (2001). Some reflections on the need for a common sign notation. Sign Language &
Linguistics, 4(1/2), 11-28.
Moores, D. F. (1996). Educating the deaf: Psychology, principles, and practices (4th ed.).
Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Newkirk, D. (1987). Architect: Final version SignFont handbook. San Diego, CA: Salk Institute
and Emerson and Stern Associates.
Newport, E. L., & Meier, R. (1985). The acquisition of American Sign Language. In D. I. Slobin
(Ed.), The crosslinguistic study of language acquisition: The data (Vol. 1). Hillside, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum.
Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf. (2004). The ASL parent-child mother goose program:
American Sign Language rhymes, rhythms and stories for parents and their children
[DVD]. Ontario Cultural Society of the Deaf Project.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
53
Padden, C., & Humphries, T. (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a culture. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.
Paul, P. V. (1994). Response to “Unlocking the curriculum”: Principles for achieving access in
deaf education. Teaching English to Deaf and Second-Language Students, 10(2), 18-21.
Paul, P. V., & Quigley, S. P. (1987). Using American Sign Language to teach English. In P. L.
McAnally, S. Rose, & S. P. Quigley (Eds.), Language learning practices with deaf
children (pp. 139-166). Boston, MA: College-Hill Press.
Petitto, L. A., Langdon, C., Stone, A., Andriola, D., Kartheiser, G., & Cochran, C. (2016). Visual
sign phonology: Insights into human reading and language from a natural soundless
phonology. WIREs Cognitive Science.
Ralabate, P. K. (2011). Universal design for learning: Meeting the needs of all students. The
ASHA Leader, 16, 14-17.
Reagan, T. (2006). Language policy and sign languages. In T. Ricento (Ed.), An introduction to
language policy: Theory and method (pp. 329-345). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Rée, J. (1999). I see a voice: Deafness, language and the senses – A philosophical history. New
York, NY: Metropolitan Books.
Roach, A. T., Neibling, B. C., & Kurz, A. (2008). Evaluating the alignment among curriculum,
instruction, and assessments: Implications and applications for research and practice.
Psychology in the Schools, 45(2), 158-176.
Roby, W. B. (1999). What’s in a gloss? Language Learning & Technology, 2(2), 94-101.
Sandler, W., & Lillo-Martin, D. (2006). Sign language and linguistic universals. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press.
Schick, B. (2011). The development of American Sign Language and manually coded English
systems. In M. Marschark & E. Spencer (Eds.), Oxford handbook of deaf studies,
language, and education (2nd ed., pp. 229-240). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Simms, L., Andrews, J., & Smith, A. (2005). A balanced approach to literacy instruction for deaf
signing students. Balanced Reading Instruction, 12, 39-54.
Singleton, J. L., Supalla, S. J., Litchfield, S., & Schley, S. (1998). From sign to word:
Considering modality constraints in ASL/English bilingual education. Topics in
Language Disorders, 18(4), 16-29.
Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young
children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
54
Supalla, S. J., & Blackburn, L. (2003). Learning how to read and bypassing sound. Odyssey, 5(1),
50-55.
Supalla, S. J., & Cripps, J. H. (2008). Linguistic accessibility and deaf children. In B. Spolsky &
F. Hult (Eds.), The handbook of educational linguistics (pp. 174-191). Oxford, UK:
Blackwell.
Supalla, S. J., & Cripps, J. H. (2011). Toward universal design in reading instruction. Bilingual
Basics, 12(2).
Supalla, S. J., Cripps, J. H., & Byrne, A. P. J. (2017). Why American Sign Language gloss must
matter. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(5), 540-551.
Supalla, S. J., & McKee, C. (2002). The role of manually coded English in language
development of deaf children. In R. Meier, K. Cormier, & D. Quinto-Pozos (Eds.),
Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages (pp. 143-165). Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
Supalla, S. J., McKee C., & Cripps, J. H. (2014). An overview on the ASL-phabet. Tucson, AZ:
The Gloss Institute Press.
Supalla, S. J., Wix, T. R., & McKee, C. (2001). Print as a primary source of English for deaf
learners. In J. Nicol & T. Langendoen (Eds.), One mind, two languages: Studies in
bilingual language processing (pp. 177-190). Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Supalla, T., & Clark, P. (2015). Sign language archaeology: Understanding the historical roots
of American Sign Language. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
Sutton, V. (1999). SignWriting. Sign Language & Linguistics, 2(2), 271-282.
Traxler, C. B. (2000). The Stanford Achievement Test, 9th edition: National norming and
performance standards for deaf and hard of hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and
Deaf Education, 5(4), 337-348.
Turner, G. H. (2009). Sign language planning: Pragmatism, pessimism and principles. Current
Issues in Language Planning, 10(3), 243-254.
Van Cleve, J. V., & Crouch, B. A. (1989). A place of their own: Creating the deaf community in
America. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
van der Hulst, H., & Channon, R. (2010). Notation systems. In D. Brentari (Ed.), Sign languages
(pp. 151-172). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Wauters, L., & de Klerk, A. (2014). Improving reading instruction to deaf and hard-of-hearing
students. In M. Marschark, G. Tang, & H. Knoors (Eds.), Bilingualism and bilingual deaf
education (pp. 242-271). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
!
Reading Methodology for Deaf Children Supalla
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
55
Zeshan, U. (2002). Towards a notion of “word” in sign languages. In R. M. W. Dixon & A. Y.
Aikhenvald (Eds.), Word: A cross-linguistic typology (pp. 153-179). Cambridge, UK:
Cambridge University Press.
ASL Literature Byrne
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
56
American Sign Language Literature:
Some Considerations for Legitimacy and Quality Issues
Andrew P. J. Byrne
Framingham State University
Abstract
American Sign Language (ASL) literature is a recent phenomenon in the American and
Canadian academic landscape and constitutes an important component for the field of ASL and
Deaf Studies. There are a number of pressing issues that have not been addressed until now. These
include: how to respond to the status of ASL as a non-written language, various definitions for
ASL literature, a large number of literary works translated from English to ASL, and the confusion
associated with some works being produced by the deaf community as opposed to those by
individual performers. This paper represents an attempt to address these issues. The four main
objectives of this paper are: (1) to validate the relationship between oral literature and ASL
literature; (2) to provide a comprehensive definition for ASL literature; (3) to promote the value
of originality as compared to translation; and (4) to create a taxonomy of ASL literary genres.
Substantial information and some research data is presented which comes from the author’s
doctoral dissertation, completed in 2013. A comprehensive definition of ASL literature is expected
to help maintain the legitimacy and quality of the literary language of the deaf community. The
author has been involved in the creation of a collection of ASL literary works, which provides a
much-needed basis for research and scholarship. The general knowledge of ASL literature through
the familiarity with works listed in the collection will help create a canon of ASL literature.
Introduction
At present, American Sign Language (ASL) enjoys popularity as a language to study. The
Modern Language Association reported that student enrollment in signed language coursework is
growing much faster than other languages in the American higher education setting (Furman,
Goldberg, & Lusin, 2010; Goldberg, Looney, & Lusin, 2015; McQuillan, 2012). The inclusion of
literature in any language study is important, and ASL should not be treated as an exception to the
rule. ASL literature provides students with keen insights on the people who use signed language.
Deaf people in the United States and parts of Canada are the primary users of ASL. They have
formed and maintain a community that shares features of ethnic communities (Lane, Pillard, &
Hedberg, 2011). ASL has played a central role in how deaf people have become a linguistic and
cultural minority in the context of society (Ladd, 2003; Lane, Hoffmeister, & Bahan, 1996;
Padden, 1980; Padden & Humphries, 1988; Stokoe, 1980; Wilcox, 1989).
ASL can be seen as a latecomer to academia when it comes to how languages are
traditionally taught (i.e., spoken and written). It was during the 1970s and 1980s that ASL started
receiving recognition as an independent and full-fledged human language possessing a linguistic
structure comprised of its own phonology, morphology, and syntax (Sandler & Lillo-Martin, 2006;
Valli, Lucas, Mulrooney, & Villanueva, 2011). What is known as deaf culture further justifies the
teaching of ASL as a foreign language in American and Canadian colleges and universities. There
are several curricula for teaching ASL that are available for purchase (e.g., Humphries & Padden,
2004; Smith, Lentz, & Mikos, 2008; Zinza, 2006). The fact that ASL has no writing system has
ASL Literature Byrne
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
57
not stopped instructors from teaching the literary component of the signed language. However, a
few decades have passed and it is time to pause and examine ASL literature in terms of legitimacy
and quality. In-depth discussions about ASL literature will help affirm its value and improve its
quality.
This paper discusses four main topics: (1) the relationship between oral literature and ASL
literature; (2) a comprehensive definition of ASL literature; (3) the question of translation; and (4)
the taxonomy of ASL literary genres. Substantial information and some data come from the
author’s doctoral dissertation, which was completed in 2013. This dissertation sought to develop
a comprehensive definition of ASL literature and to organize its genres of original literary works.
The methodology involved semi-structured interviews of eight deaf ASL users who are experts in
the field of ASL and Deaf Studies. The experts had extensive knowledge of ASL literature as well
as numerous years of experience teaching ASL language and literature courses. From an original
pool of twelve experts, eight were available for interviews. They possessed a range of degrees
from the bachelor’s level through the doctoral level and positions ranging from K – 12 educators
and administrators to post-secondary faculty and researchers. Interviews were conducted in person
or via videophone. All interviews were video recorded. Experts were asked four research questions
related to legitimacy and quality of ASL literature. The questions were as follows:
1) At a time when there is increasing recognition of ASL literacy, how should ASL
literature be defined?
2) What are the features that characterize ASL literature?
3) What would constitute such a literature (e.g., genres)? To what extent is there a
comprehensive taxonomy of genres captured in VHS and DVD publications?
4) What are examples of ASL literary works included in this taxonomy?
After collecting and transcribing data from the interviews, a cross-sectional analysis of the
interviews was performed using a constant comparison method. The responses were analyzed and
placed into categories for comparison. The process of categorizing was done by reading the
transcribed text of the interviews, circling common responses, and developing categories for the
responses. After completing the categorization process, the common categories were grouped
around common responses for each research question. In the end, the experts were asked to read
the transcription of their interviews for accuracy and validation.
For understanding literature in general, it is worthwhile to consider the work of Roman
Jakobson, a member of the Russian Formalism school in the early twentieth century. Originally
published in Russian in 1921 by Jakobson and translated from Russian to English by Edward J.
Brown in 1973, Jakobson (1973) explained that “the subject of literary scholarship is not literature
but literariness (literaturnost), that is, that which makes of a given work a work of literature” (p.
62). The essence of literariness is defamiliarization. “The primary aim of literature…is to estrange
or defamiliarize…by disrupting the modes of ordinary linguistic discourse, literature ‘makes
strange’ the world of everyday perception and renews the reader’s lost capacity for fresh sensation
(Abrams & Harpham, 2015, p. 142). Kathy Torabi (2010) elaborated, “Defamiliarization causes
the audience to confront the object on a different level, elevating and transforming it from
something ordinary or practical into work that is considered art(n.p.). For ASL literature, it is
appropriate to expect that literariness and defamiliarization take place with signed language just
as it is for spoken languages. As such, ASL students have the opportunity of experiencing a form
of art when watching an accomplished signer performing on the videotape.
ASL Literature Byrne
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
58
Because the scholarly study of ASL literature is relatively young, establishing a list of
criteria to create the canonicity of ASL literary works has only recently been discussed but not yet
agreed to as a community. Since the publication of Cynthia Peters’ Deaf American Literature:
From Carnival to the Canon in 2000, Sutton-Spence and Kaneko (2016) appear to be the first to
discuss the concept of canon (or canons) explicitly and in depth related to signed language
literature, especially folklore. The authors provide definitions for, respectively, general canons of
folklore and a signed language canon of folklore. The definition of the former is “collections that
are generally accepted as being representative, and are understood to be central examples of
folklore, judged ‘the best’ by a community” (p. 40). As for the latter’s definition, “[it] is made up
of the sign language folklore that is judged to be the knowledge that is most valued by community
members as their folklore” (p. 40). In spite of the authors’ acknowledgment that the last definition
is incomplete and that people frequently dispute who has the authority to determine what is
canonical and what is not, they state that Stephen Ryan’s 1993 article entitled Let’s Tell an ASL
Story suggested that all canonical stories in signed language possess particular elements in
common. The elements are as follows:
§ Show the deaf perspective.
§ Inform us in some way about the concerns of the deaf community and its relationship
with the hearing world.
§ Increase signing skills (including for second language learners).
§ Increase cultural sensitivity.
§ Teach cultural values.
§ Be good entertainment. (Spence-Sutton & Kaneko, 2016, pp. 40-41)
Ryan’s article discussed ASL storytelling techniques, activities, and resources, as well as
suggestions for effective storytelling without making reference to the term canon or canons.
Sutton-Spence and Kaneko perceived Ryan’s stories as canonical, but the criteria that the authors
developed based on Ryan’s article appear to be ambiguous and inadequate. They do not seem as
comprehensive as suggested in the newly-created definition for ASL literature by this author (see
page 10 of this paper). This new definition could be used as a starting point for canon formation
for ASL literature.
In terms of the different literatures of the world, forming a canon is no easy task due to the
varying and disputed perspectives. The definitions of a canon range from the simplest to the most
detailed. A simple definition is “a collection of key works of literature” (Wilczek, 2012, p. 1687).
M. H. Abrams and Geoffrey Harpham (2015) provide a detailed definition:
The canon is the result of the concurrence of a great many (often unexpressed)
norms and standards, and among these, one crucial factor has been the high
intellectual and artistic quality of the canonical works themselves and their attested
power to enlighten, give delight, and appeal to widely shared human concerns and
values. (p. 45)
It is reasonable to expect that some of the works of ASL literature have the capacity of
becoming canonical. This paper's focus is on understanding ASL literature in more basic terms.
ASL literature has a number of issues that have not been addressed until now. The issues addressed
here center around the handling of: (1) the so-called ASL literary works that have ties to English,
ASL Literature Byrne
SASLJ, Vol. 1, No. 1 – Fall/Winter 2017
59
(2) many definitions for ASL literature in current use, and (3) the confusion associated with works
that arise out of the deaf community as a collective as opposed to works that are authored by
individual performers. A particular problem that this paper will address is how ASL literature is
widely taught to hearing students while such instruction is either non-existent or marginal when it
comes to deaf students in American and Canadian schools. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of
ASL literature lies in the fact that it is not written. Some students taking ASL classes are perplexed
by the idea that signed language has a literature when there are no books to read. Clearly, a
reaffirming support for the concept of oral literature is needed. While many ASL instructors are
culturally deaf and accustomed to the narration of stories and poems delivered in ASL ‘through
the air,' they need to defend teaching ASL literature in its unique form.
The Relationship between Oral Literature and ASL Literature
In Ben Bahan’s paper entitled ASL Literature: Inside the Story, he asks, “Can there be a
literature that is not written down?” (1992, p. 153). The significance of this question cannot be
downplayed. Bahan is a Professor in the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies
at Gallaudet University, a premier institution of higher education for deaf students in Washington,
D.C. He is deaf and an accomplished storyteller in his own language, ASL. He has a long resume
of traveling throughout the United States and abroad to give storytelling performances on stage.
His most recent work is entitled Bleeva (2014), which is best described as a monologue with insight
and humor on why deaf people are here on earth. Audiences of Bahan’s performances over the
years have been both deaf and hearing with the important understanding that they know ASL (S.
Supalla & Bahan, 1994a, 1994b). Individuals who pay admission have been eager to be entertained
by Bahan’s performances, thus, the audience experience has to be significant, including that of a
literary nature.
One reason Bahan raised the question of whether there can be a literature that is not written
down has to do with the conventional attitude that literature is tied to the written form. As a matter
of fact, there are opposing positions among scholars on this issue. While some scholars such as
Walter Ong believe that there is no such thing as oral literature, others such as Isidore Okpewho
think differently. Ong (1982) views oral literature as a “strictly preposterous term” because it has
“nothing to do with writing at all” (p. 11). He then adds, “Thinking of oral tradition or a heritage
of oral performance, genres and styles as ‘oral literature’ is rather like thinking of horses as
automobiles without wheels” (p. 12). Okpewho (1992) believes that there can be a literature that
is not written down. He defines oral literature as “literature delivered by word of mouth” or as
“those utterances, whether spoken, recited or sung, whose composition and performance exhibit
to an appreciable degree the artistic characteristics of accurate observation, vivid imagination and
ingenious expression” (pp. 3-5).
Even though the term ‘oral literature’ is perceived as oxymoronic, it is now becoming
accepted as a term, mostly as a result of an increasing number of publications in recent years (see
Burns, 2011; Halpern & Miller, 2014; Niles, 2010; Okpewho, 1992; Reichi, 2016; Turin, Wheeler,
& Wilkinson, 2013). There is a website called World Oral Literature Project “to documen