Is ASL a foreign language?

ASL-letter-chart.jpegThere is debate in colleges across America about the status of American Sign Language, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune.

Whilst some view it is a foreign language, and thus available for college credit, others argue that an indigenous language cannot by definition be ‘foreign’. ASL has origins in Old French Sign Language, and was developed at the American School for the Deaf in Connecticut. Because of its origins, it is noticeably different to sign languages of other English-speaking countries such as Britain, where British Sign Language is used. According to a study by the Modern Language Association it is the fourth most studied language at colleges other than English.

Some educators argue that as it doesn’t have the written or cultural components of a language like Spanish or French, ASL cannot be considered for credit.  However:

Timothy Reagan, an education professor at Central Connecticut State University, said American Sign Language has a rich tradition of poetry, history and culture that shouldn’t be dismissed.

“One of the worst things you can do to a human being is to say, ‘Your language doesn’t count,'” he said.

For potential ASL students across the nation, as well as language commentators, this debate is sure to be watched closely.