Why Study ASL?
American Sign Language (ASL) is the language of the Deaf community in the United States and much of Canada. It is the central vehicle for communication among Deaf people, and is therefore also a binding force in their culture. ASL uses a gestural-visual modality in which manual signs, facial expressions, and body movements and postures all convey complex linguistic information. It is a fully developed language, with its own systems for articulation, forming words and sentences, and meaning. ASL is not a derivative of English, and its study raises many important scientific questions about the true universals of language, as well as their developmental and neurological origins. Not only is it a full natural language, it is also at the core of a new literary tradition, both in poetry and theater.
ASL is estimated to be the fourth most commonly used language in the U.S. Through learning the preferred language of the Deaf community, students who study ASL gain access to the rich cultural heritage of that community, which includes a distinguished tradition of visual poetry, narrative, and theater. Students of ASL also learn about other aspects of American Deaf culture, including the values and outlooks of Deaf people, and social and educational aspects of deafness.
Students of ASL may find that they gain a new perspective on how human languages are structured. Through learning a language that uses a different modality of expression than the oral-auditory modality of spoken languages, students begin to discover properties that are common to all languages. Linguists' research on the commonalities between signed and spoken language provides strong evidence that all languages are governed by the same basic properties.
Finally, study of ASL also provides practical training for students entering a range of professions in the field of deafness, and may strengthen students' qualifications for various non-deafness careers. As social, community, legal and educational services have expanded nationwide, many career possibilities have opened up for persons interested in professional work in deaf-related fields. Study of ASL also provides excellent preparation to students for professional careers as sign language interpreters, sign language instructors, counselors, government specialists, audiologists, speech pathologists, program administrators, community service personnel, and many other deaf-related vocations.
Because the city of Rochester has a large Deaf population, students at University of Rochester have a unique opportunity to learn and use ASL outside the classroom. Students in the more advanced ASL courses regularly attend theatrical events and lectures in ASL at local schools and colleges.