Sign Languge at SUNY New Paltz

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat Dec 9 14:37:50 UTC 2006

The New Paltz Oracle Volume 78 Issue 10 Thursday, December 7, 2006

By Megan Svoboda, Contributing Writer

SUNY New Paltz offers students 11 language programs including Chinese,
German, Spanish, French, among others. So why is it that American Sign
Language is not considered a foreign language? It was the Provosts
decision that Sign (Language) not be considered to fill the GE Language
requirement, said Dr. Stella Turk. Turk is the department chair for
communication disorders. In order to change this,You have to petition the
dean, she said. In order to receive credit for a students GE fulfillment,
the student must petition Associate Dean of the Liberal Arts, Lynn

Up until two years ago, it wasnt even considered a language for
communication disorder students, Turk said. I think it should be
considered a language, Beth Colebeck said. Colebeck has taken ASL 1 and 2
and has been able to receive credit for the class because of special
circumstances. The policy makes it sound as if ASL (American Sign
Language) is less of a language because it is not spoken and because it
has no written component, said Helen Hook, a teacher within the
communication disorders department.  Neither is the case. ASL is just as
abstract as English or any other spoken language. Hook has found that over
the years more students are becoming more interested in the topic and the
deaf community. This spring will be the first time since 1998 she will be
teaching Sign 3 in consecutive semesters.

Some students taking the Sign class find Sign Language even harder than
other languages because it is not verbal. The use of only gestures to as a
language can be difficult to interpret sometimes. Some people may think
that the provost has a good reason being that it is not technically a
foreign language. Hook said, The reason why it should count for any and
all students is that ASL is the third most commonly used language in
American, with over 500,00 users. Hook said that, it comes behind English
and Spanish.

Foreign has two meanings; one, from another country, and two unfamiliar.
It has its own grammar and syntax totally different from English. Tribal
Languages like Navajo have no written component and people still see those
as true languages, she said. Learning ASL would open up more opportunities
in their (students)  respective fields, Hook said.

E-mail Megan at svobod24 at


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