Academic acceptance and official recognition
American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual-gestural language that is used as a primary means of communication by many deaf people in the United States and Canada. For a long time, it was thought to be either a crude collection of gestures, or to be an "inferior" form of English. However, linguistic research beginning in the 1960s has shown that ASL is a true, complete and rich language in its own right, unrelated to English. ASL is a major part of American Deaf culture, and is transmitted from one generation of signers to the next.
ASL is increasingly popular as a "foreign language" in hearing schools and colleges. Even though ASL is historically a more truly "American" language than English is, because of its minority status it is generally classed as a foreign language in American schools and colleges. An increasing number of schools and colleges now accept ASL as meeting part or all of their foreign-language credit requirements.
American Sign Language as a Foreign Language
Sherman Wilcox of the University of New Mexico has kept track for many years of the trend to accept and teach American Sign Language as a foreign language. In this document, he examines the debate on and justifications for accepting ASL as a foreign language: http://www.unm.edu/~wilcox/UNM/facts.html. Although acceptance of ASL as a foreign language has become widespread, there have been several instances in recent months, in which a crippled economy and fierce debate have led to reductions in ASL/Deaf Studies curricula. For example, in April of 2010, the Chicago Tribune reported briefly on this phenomenon, and San Diego State University, a school known for its bilingual/bicultural deaf education program, recently announced cuts to the curriculum.
States that Recognize American Sign Language as a Foreign Language
In several U.S. states and Canadian provinces, academic credit cannot be given to courses in a language unless and until that language has been recognized as a foreign language by the state or provincial legislature. The "Info-to-Go" site at the Laurent Clerc National Education Center has a list of U.S. states that have recognized ASL as a foreign language for the purposes of academic credit. This usually allows public schools and publicly-funded universities within that state to offer ASL courses for credit.
Universities that Accept ASL in Fulfillment of Foreign Language Requirements
Sherman Wilcox at the University of New Mexico maintains a continually updated list of American colleges and universities that now accept ASL as meeting part or all of their foreign language requirements. You can find that list here.
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Reference and Instruction Librarian
Updated: February, 2008