Pamela Toman, a data scientist at Booz Allen Hamilton with training in linguistics, spoke to us this Tuesday about the linguistics of American Sign Language, including its phonological, syntactical, and social aspects.
Pamela’s posted a resource page/outline of her lecture here (note that we did not discuss everything). Here’s a summary of stuff we talked about not on her site:
Oralism – belief that deaf people should learn to function in a hearing world. That means making them learn lip reading and speaking. Back in the 1960s and earlier, people even believed that sign language would harm one’s spoken language, and so they banned signing in schools. On a side note, people didn’t ban signing in black schools, which is why Black Sign Language is significantly different and older than American Sign Language.
Sapir-Worf Hypothesis – may be in play here, although probably not. Because of sign language’s emphasis on space, maybe deaf people have better spatial reasoning?
Sociolinguistics – We talked about how hearing parents raising deaf children can be a problem, starving children of language.