An investigation of how foreign language departments at American colleges and universities view American Sign Language

David Roy Sinett, Florida International University


Corwin and Wilcox (1985) sent surveys to more than 100 American colleges and universities to determine the policies on the matter of accepting American Sign Language (ASL) as a foreign language. Their results indicated that 81% of those surveyed rejected ASL as a foreign/modern language equivalent. The most frequently stated opposition to ASL was that it lacked a culture. Some of the other objections to ASL were: ASL is not foreign; there is no written form and therefore no original body of literature; it is a derivative of English; and it is indigenous to the United States and hence not foreign. Based on the work of Corwin and Wilcox this study sent surveys to 222 American colleges and universities. Noting an expanding cognizance and social awareness of ASL and deafness (as seen in the increasing number of movies, plays, television programs, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and related news stories), this study sought to find out if ASL was now considered an acceptable foreign language equivalent. The hypothesis of this study was that change has occurred since the 1985 study: that a significant percent of post secondary schools accepting ASL as a foreign/modern language equivalent has increased. The 165 colleges and universities that responded to this author's survey confirmed there has been a significant shift towards the acceptance of ASL. Only 50% of the respondents objected to ASL as a foreign language equivalent, a significant decrease from the 1985 findings. Of those who objected to granting ASL foreign language credit, the reasons were similar to those of the Corwin and Wilcox study, except that the belief in an absence of a Deaf culture dropped from the top reason listed, to the fifth. That ASL is not foreign was listed as the most frequent objection in this study. One important change which may account for increased acceptance of ASL, is that 16 states (compared to 10 in 1985) now have policies stating that ASL is acceptable as a foreign language equivalent. Two-year colleges, in this study, were more likely to accept ASL than were four-year colleges and universities. Neither two- nor four-year colleges and universities are likely to include ASL in their foreign language departments, and most schools that have foreign language entrance requirements are unlikely to accept ASL. In colleges and universities where ASL was already offered in some department within the system, there was a significantly higher likelihood that foreign language credit was given for ASL. Respondents from states with laws governing the inclusion of ASL did not usually know their state had a policy. Most respondents, 84%, indicated their knowledge on the topic of ASL was fair to poor.

Subject Area

Language|Language arts

Recommended Citation

Sinett, David Roy, "An investigation of how foreign language departments at American colleges and universities view American Sign Language" (1995). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI9610898.