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American Sign Language Research Guide   Tags: deaf, research guide  

This page lists information sources and suggests research strategies on topics related to American Sign Language.
Last Updated: Sep 14, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

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American Sign Language

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. In addition to Deaf native users and deaf people who learn it later in life, many hearing children whose deaf parents use ASL learn it as a first language; other children learn ASL in schools or from friends and deaf adults; and it is increasingly popular as a "foreign language" in hearing schools and colleges. ASL should not be confused with signed English or with signed pidgins, which use signs from ASL but put them in English-language order, often with additional invented signs to show English grammar and syntax.

Remember, this guide will not tell you about all the materials the Library has about American Sign Language. You must do the research yourself. This guide will give you some starting points to begin your search for information. If you need further assistance, please ask at the Service Desk.

For the beginner

For introductory information about American Sign Language, you can check the Deaf Stacks in call numbers 420-428. For research on most topics, it is useful to check in more than one source to learn the basic vocabulary used in your topic.

A quick introduction that has stood the test of time is:

For more detailed introductory material, these specialized sources are suggested:

  • Baker, Charlotte. American Sign Language: a teacher's resource text on grammar and culture.Silver Spring, Md.: T.J. Publishers, 1980. (DEAF 425 B3a 1980)
    • This emphasizes ASL history, its relation to the Deaf community, and sign formation. It also shows how to sign in ASL.
  • Hoemann, Harry W. Communicating with deaf people: a resource manual for teachers and students of American Sign Language.Baltimore, Md.: University Park Press, 1978. (DEAF 420.07 H6c 1978)
    • Explains what ASL is about: structure, facial expressions, fingerspelling, etc.
  • Lane, Harlan, and Grosjean, Francois, eds. Recent perspectives on American Sign Language.Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1980. (DEAF 420 R43 1980)
    • Presents several current perspectives on ASL, including linguistic, psycholinguistic, developmental, neurolinguistic, sociolinguistic, and historical aspects.
  • Van Cleve, John, ed. Gallaudet encyclopedia of deaf people and deafness.New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987, Volume 3, pages 22-134. (On reserve at the Circulation Desk.)
    • This contains several articles related to American Sign Language. They are grouped together on the pages listed above. These articles explain various aspects of sign language, such as facial expressions, history, other countries' sign languages, and useful textbooks. Also, the articles have bibliographies which will help you find more information.

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Revised by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
October 2001
Revised and updated by James McCarthy
Instruction & Reference Librarian
July 2012

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