Letters: Misreading the meaning of sign language


IRESPECTFULLY take issue with Dom Giordano's position on the increasing use of ASL in high school and college classes as a "foreign" language.

His argument of what constitutes "foreign" uses a narrow definition. If it's terminology that he takes issue with, note that many universities and schools categorize second languages as world languages or languages other than English so as to be inclusive, not exclusive, of the linguistic and cultural opportunities of that which might not be "foreign." When you study a language and culture that's not your own, it's indeed a foreign experience from which much is to be gained.

Second, what is the purpose of language learning? Those in the humanities see language learning to be a way for students to broaden perspectives and expand educational experiences by learning a language not native to them.

Dom's suggestion that university recognition of ASL is a "watering down of any kind of standards" that detracts from "preparing our students for the new global economy," simply comes from a lack of understanding of the transnational linguistic and cultural potential of learning ASL or any signed language.

Dom's comments suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of ASL and suggests the common misperception that it's a signed version of English. Not only is ASL linguistically a complete human language with elaborate grammar independent of English, it's actually historically related to signed French and is in little-to-no way related to English with the exception of the "borrowing" of finger-spelled words-which has linguistic parallels in spoken languages.

I take Dom's response as evidence of his misunderstanding of, but not disdain for, a language and culture not his own. Should he wish to sit in on a class to experience the linguistic and cultural complexities of ASL, I invite him to do so.

Jami Fisher, American Sign Language Coordinator

University of Pennsylvania