ASL – takes a licking but keeps on ticking

LSF-MVSL Boat Rock Art Bob Rourke
LSF-MVSL Boat Rock Art by Bob Rourke

Happy Anniversary American Sign Language

10 score years ago – ASL reached the shores of North America – via LSF – langue des signes française (French Sign Language) a la Laurent Clerc. Laurent, a French Deafmute teacher at the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets, learned it from his peers and teachers like Massieu before becoming a teacher himself. Despite the folklore told of how the Hearing Abbe de l’Epee invented LSF for Deaf students – the French Deaf community already had a language before l’Epee formed the first permanent school in the world to use sign language.  

“…once Épée had conceived the noble project of devoting himself to the education of the deaf, he wisely observed that they possessed a natural language for communication to each other. As this language was none other than sign language, he realized that if he managed to understand it, the triumph of his undertaking would be assured. This insight has been justified by success. So the abbé de l’Épée was not the inventor or creator of this language; quite the contrary, he learned it from the deaf.” Pierre Desloges (1779)

So too we see that the folklore of Clerc bringing LSF became ASL- ignores that there were already vibrant natural sign languages existing in North America prior to Clerc’s arrival.  Plains Indian Sign Language and Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language as well as home signs played a significant role in the birth of ASL.  It was the combining and intermingling of these languages that brought about “the” sign language of the U.S.

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 4.24.08 PM
Chart from the HeART of Deaf Culture: Literary and Artistic Expressions of Deafhood (K. Christie & P. Durr)

200 years later – ASL still has a strong kinship with LSF. Plains Indians Sign Language is on the decline but similarities can be detected in old footage and books. Martha’s Vineyard sign language is no longer alive, having died off when the last Deaf islander passed on, so its hard to do a comparison with MVS.

Despite a relentless campaign against American Sign Language and Deaf culture (see Baynton’s Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language, When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf and Mask of Benevolence: Disability the Deaf Community by Lane and many others), ASL has continued to grow, rise, and now SOAR.

Yes, ASL is soaring – it takes a licking and keeps on ticking.  Despite the first wave of

Heart Bleed by Nancy Rourke

Milan that began in full speed after the ICED Milan Congress of 1880 where Oral methods of teachers were ruled to be superior to sign language, despite the second wave of Oralism with the mass implanting of Deaf children and the aggressive oral / aural only (AVT) regime being resurrected, despite the AG Bell Association freaking out any time a wee bit of ASL was shown on TV or accepted in popular culture, despite the EHDI’s strong bias for anything auditory and oral and against anything visual and natural, despite the FDA approving CI in toddlers and stem cell experimentation on newborns, despite parents being bamboozled, mislead, and disinformed, despite oodles and noodles of things – ASL still SOARS – 10 score years later.

(amongst all these years of persecution – which are still going on today in the US of A – know that wee children have been put into dark closest, dunk in scalding hot water, hit with rulers, punished emotionally, physically, verbally, and endlessly – simply for… signing and still ASL keeps on ticking)

Lifeblood by P. Durr


  • ASL is the 3rd most studied language in the US of A
  • ASL and English languages used at Gallaudet University and NTID/RIT (YES NTID/RIT too). I’m so happy.  Thank you to each and all the NTID/RIT students who stood long and hard for language equality and equality of condition and affective education.  u shine.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics says that Deaf babies, children and youth should be given ASL as does the UN CRPD, WHO, WFD, and ICED 2010

there is more – there is lots more but the point is… VIVA American Sign Language.  You take a licking but keep on ticking as is evident in Tick Tock by Ian Sanborn.  His eye popping, show stopping, heart racing is an amazing tribute to ASL, Deaf culture, and ARTivists who have worked hard and long to keep ASL alive.  Resistance is the secret to possessing joy – as Alice Walker wrote.

So ya hoo and thank u to each and all who stand and stand again and boo to all of you who hurt, persecute, and deprive.

Can u imagine how beautiful it all would be had we not have to repeat this vicious cycle again and again and again.  showing the orally raised that it is OK to be Deaf and ASL folks are not inferior – and u aint better than them and they aint better than u and…

welcome home.  tick tock.  keep leaving the speech pathologist speechless folks!

See below the video box for a poem from a Deaf man in a maximum security prison – who every time we visited for our monthly De’VIA workshops – he would create works or poems celebrating and affirming A S L.

added below the poem is a viral video of a Deaf grandma teaching her Deaf 9-week old grand child the sign for “grandma” its a precious and priceless visual representation of how ASL keeps ticking and soars


Poem and artwork by A – April 2017

I use my hands like a mouth to speak

I use ASL every day of the week

I am proud to be deaf A ASL do not enter

For me ASL is the best

It’s a language all its own

I can even use it with a video phone

Many people try to put me down

Yet they don’t know that ASL is all around

I keep my head high

And show everyone my Deaf Pride

What am I?

I’ll give you one guess.

That’s right: I’m Proud to be Deaf

link to viral video of a Deaf grandma teaching her 9 week old grandchild ASL

2 thoughts on “ASL – takes a licking but keeps on ticking

  1. Slight correction/amplification: ASL is the third most studied foreign language in American academia after Spanish and French.

  2. Alex
    – ASL is taught as a foreign language but the whole point of this entry is how ASL is indigenous to this nation so to add the word foreign language here
    Would be inaccurate

    It is the third most studied language in the US (excluding English)

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