American Sign Language

Welcome to the American Sign Language program at Wesleyan University.


American Sign Language (ASL) is used by culturally Deaf individuals in the United States to communicate with each other and with hearing persons who know the language. It has a rich history influenced by French Sign Language (LSF), Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), and from the pockets of Deaf communities scattered throughout New England. The American School for the Deaf (ASD), the cradle of ASL, was founded in 1817 in Hartford, CT, and is the first school for Deaf children in the Western hemisphere. Sign language is not universal as there are different signed languages used in many respective countries.

ASL is a complex visual/gestural grammatical language that is not spoken nor written. Spacial indexing of signs and fingerspelling (use of space, orientation, shape, movement, and directionality), along with facial and body expressions, synergistically give dynamic meaning to the language. ASL and Deaf culture are intertwined. The culture is comprised of norms of interacting with one another and is found in traditions such as literature, athletics, film, poetry, music, dance, clubs, homecomings, and community and professional organizations.

The use of ASL spans the life cycle. Deaf and hearing people, from infancy well into adulthood, learn and use ASL. Baby sign language is taught to infants as young as a few months old and is a very popular way of establishing rudimentary communication with infants before they can vocalize. Amazing! The proliferation of ASL courses and programs over the past few decades has resulted in many offerings at the secondary and postsecondary levels. And here at Wesleyan!

The ASL program at Wesleyan offers three courses in American Sign Language. Additionally, Deaf culture readings, lectures, and discussions examine Deafhood from educational, vocational, theatrical, sociological, psychological, and systemic perspectives. The capstone is a visit to the American School for the Deaf.

Study Away is also available at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., a focal point for the education for deaf students from around the world. Additionally, ongoing involvement with ASD presents an opportunity to learn more about Deaf culture, the educational process, and further hone ASL skills while contributing to the community.