[EDLING:73] Boston U: ASL classes should fulfill language requirements

Francis M Hult fmhult at DOLPHIN.UPENN.EDU
Tue May 1 14:31:59 UTC 2007

Via lgpolicy...

> PERSPECTIVE: ASL classes should fulfill language requirements
> Posted: 4/30/07
> I write in response to recent articles about the acceptance of American
> Sign Language (ASL) for foreign-language requirements. As the faculty
> member who submitted proposals to the College of Arts and Sciences
> Academic Policy Committee (APC) in both 1993 and 2004 (at the request of
> students who lacked standing), I would like to address several issues.
> At the March 16, 2005 CAS Faculty Meeting, dean Jeffrey Henderson allowed
> a vote on a proposal that ASL "proficiency be accepted in fulfillment of
> the CAS Foreign Language Requirement on the basis of bilingualism, to be
> determined by a CAS-administered test." This differed significantly from
> the proposal submitted one year earlier: To accept the proficiency level
> sufficient for other languages (i.e., that attained through four semesters
> of college-level instruction). What better demonstration of such
> proficiency than successful completion of ASL IV?By:  I do not understand
> why the college has imposed further requirements of "bilingualism" (surely
> unattainable through four semesters of study of any language) and
> proficiency testing (at some cost to the university)  exclusively on
> students of ASL. Why is there doubt that students completing ASL IV have
> attained proficiency appropriate for satisfaction of this requirement?
> Henderson does not wish to allow School of Education courses to fulfill
> CAS requirements. However, CAS does not require specific courses, only
> demonstration of (fourth-semester-equivalent) proficiency in any of
> several ways (e.g., through course work -- even at other universities via
> transfer credit -- or standardized achievement tests). Courses offered
> through SED (including ASL I-IV and Deaf literature and culture) have long
> been available to CAS students as electives.
> In his latest statements, the dean distinguishes "liberal arts" from
> "applied" languages. This linguistically meaningless distinction seems
> like nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to keep ASL out of the
> "language clubhouse" by assigning it separate-but-not-quite-equal status.
> The Linguistic Society of America (LSA) policy statement (ratified in
> 2001), affirmed that signed languages of the Deaf have the same expressive
> capacity and richness of linguistic structure as spoken languages. Signed
> languages are full-fledged languages that incorporate rule-governed
> systems at every linguistic level (with basic articulatory, discriminatory
> elements composing units of meaning that are organized into a hierarchical
> syntactic structure). ASL, dating back almost 200 years and quite distinct
> historically and structurally from English, is the language of deaf
> communities in much of North America. "It is also the vehicle of a
> distinguished deaf culture and has a tradition of visual literature."
> The LSA also affirms: "[S]igned languages such as ASL all the rights and
> privileges attendant to any spoken languages, including the right to
> satisfy a student's academic foreign language requirement, just as
> Spanish, Chinese, Navajo, or any other spoken language can."
> Despite increasing acceptance of ASL at American universities, the Silber
> administration is widely known to have resisted. Lennard Davis, in his
> excellent article, "The Linguistic Turf Battles Over American Sign
> Language" (Chronicle of Higher Education, June 5, 1998), referred to the
> heated debate at Boston University that had been going on for at least 15
> years.
> "The administration, led by Chancellor John Silber, initially maintained
> that ASL was not a language, did not have a culture associated with it,
> and was not 'foreign.' The administration dropped the first two objections
> in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, but steadfastly
> maintains that ASL is not foreign enough to meet the university's
> requirements."
> Reasons given for exclusion of ASL have included (varying)
> characterizations of the people who use this language. For example, in his
> letter on April 25, 1994, the Chair of the APC explained why Navajo would
> be considered "foreign" whereas ASL would not: "[T]he use of ASL is
> primarily confined to deaf people, and those who communicate with them in
> this manner, in North America. Moreover, these people come from a variety
> of ethnic and sub-cultural backgrounds, because the basis for ASL is an
> unfortunate disability that has no geographic or demographic basis."
> Discussions of diversity frequently focus on gender and ethnicity. I am
> pleased that BU's Council for Faculty Diversity and Inclusion, on which I
> serve, takes a broader view, including in its definition of diversity:
> "life experience, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin,
> ethnicity, physical ability, spiritual beliefs, and intellectual
> approach." In the words of Walt Wolfram (William C. Friday Distinguished
> Professor of Linguistics at North Carolina State University and 2001
> President of the LSA, p.c. 4/29/2004), who points out that there is no
> question about the "linguistic legitimacy and integrity" of ASL, "one of
> the most important languages" in this country:
> "To deny its native users and those who wish to learn it as a second
> language the rights attendant to its status as a language is one of the
> most blatant forms of linguistic discrimination still tolerated in
> American society. Such personal and institutional acts of discrimination
> must cease and those who discriminate against ASL must be held
> accountable."
> BU has come a long way since 1991, and it has not been an easy road. I
> hope that this university will consider further changes to its language
> policies, so that BU (not only CAS, but all its colleges) may, at long
> last, join the ranks of University of California at Berkeley, Stanford,
> Yale, and many other distinguished institutions in recognizing ASL on par
> with other foreign languages for satisfaction of its requirements.
> Carol Neidle is a professor of French and linguistics in the department of
> modern foreign languages in the College of Arts and Sciences. She is also
> the CAS director of the American Sign Language Linguistic Research
> Project.
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> http://media.www.dailyfreepress.com/media/storage/paper87/news/2007/04/30/Opinion/Perspective.Asl.Classes.Should.Fulfill.Language.Requirements-2888247.shtml

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