[lg policy] American sign language and English language learners: New linguistic research supports the need for policy changes

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Jun 12 10:20:27 EDT 2018

 American sign language and English language learners: New linguistic
research supports the need for policy changes June 11, 2018, Linguistic
Society of America <http://www.linguisticsociety.org/>
[image: Language]
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study of the educational needs of students who are native users of
American Sign Language (ASL) shows glaring disparities in their treatment
by the U.S Department of Education. The article, "If you use ASL, should
you study ESL? Limitations of a modality-b(i)ased policy", by Elena
Koulidobrova (Central Connecticut State University), Marlon Kunze
(Gallaudet University) and Hannah Dostal (University of Connecticut), will
be published in the June, 2018 issue of the scholarly journal *Language*.

The US legal system offers various protections to children for whom English
is an additional language, such as access to focused English instruction to
facilitate mastery of the academic curriculum. However, these laws do not
protect all multilingual students in the US. One population of bilingual
students has been systematically excluded from these protections are those
whose native language <https://medicalxpress.com/tags/native+language/> is
ASL. The authors' research shows that ASL has long been considered a system
of communication for people with hearing needs and viewed through the prism
of disability as opposed to multilingualism. However, as decades of
linguistic research have revealed, ASL is a language in its own right and
independent from English; it is the primary language of the Deaf community
in the US, but there are also many members of the ASL community who are not
deaf. Yet, the conflation between the lack of hearing and language drives
the linguistic, as well as educational policy
<https://medicalxpress.com/tags/policy/>, of the US government.

Among the most serious ramifications of the exclusion of ASL speakers from
the legal policies on multilingual education is that no data has ever been
systematically collected on users of ASL who have no disabilities: we
simply do not know with certainty how many typically developing children in
the US school system have ASL as a native language. This article
systematically demonstrates that there are different kinds of "ASL native"
groups, and each is truly multilingual in all the ways which have by now
become familiar as a result of previous linguistic research with
individuals who speak other languages. Schools and educators understand the
need to separate issues of language impairment from language development so
that ASL speakers are able to receive appropriate linguistic support. The
authors propose explicit programmatic curricular suggestions, but more
importantly, they call for a change in policy that would dismantle the
conflation between language and disability and, therefore, finally take the
US closer to equity for children whose native language is a sign language

further:* ESL students with special needs fail to get language instruction,
study finds

*More information:* A pre-print version of the article may be found at:


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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