ASL Slang terms from Ms.Luttrell pre-K class at MSD
ASL Slang terms from Ms.Luttrell pre-K class at MSD

American Sign Language, History And Where To Learn

Have You Ever Wanted To Know American Sign Language?

March 21, 2023


The ASL Alphabet from Wikimedia Commons on Google “ASL Alphabet”

The history and record keeping of American Sign Language (ASL) didn’t begin until 1814. It was also in 1814 that deaf education was introduced to the United States. Before 1814, there was little to no information about the history of sign language. What we do know of before 1814 is that there were only a few thousand deaf Americans and no standard sign language existed. However, there were various signing systems that were created by the deaf communities around. Those signing systems are known today as the old american sign language. The American sign language that we have today does relate to old American sign language.




Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet the forefather from Picryl “Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet” Wikimedia Commons on Google

The history of American Sign Language starts with Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Gallaudet was a minister from Hartford, Connecticut. He had a neighbor who had a deaf child, her name was Alice Cogswell, and she was nine years old. Gallaudet noticed that Alice was very smart despite the fact that she was mute and could not hear. Gallaudet decided that he wanted to teach Alice how to communicate. Gallaudet at the start had very little success teaching Alice reading and spelling, but he realized it was because he didn’t know anything about the most effective ways of educating the deaf. In order for Gallaudet to find the most effective methods he gained community support and enough money in order to go to Europe. Reason being there was a history of deaf education in Europe. 




In Europe, Gallaudet met Abbe Sicard, Jean Masseu, and Laurent Clerc. All three were accomplished deaf educators at the national institute for deaf-mutes. Gallaudet studied the teaching methods of those three instructors and even had private lessons with Laurent Clerc who was considered one of the best teachers at the institute. Once Gallaudet was getting ready to travel back to America he had prompted Laurent Clerc to travel back with him. Gallaudet knew he would be a big help in starting a deaf school in the United States. Laurent Clerc agreed to travel back with Gallaudet. Once they were back they established their school in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1817 known as the American School for the Deaf it was the first free public school for the deaf. This school was a very important moment in American deaf history.


The school grew quickly and had deaf students from all over the United States. Because of these students coming from all over they brought different and new signs with them. American sign language stemmed from these signs as well as signs from French sign language that Gallaudet learned from Clerc. In 1830, Gallaudet retired and Clerc keeped teaching at the school until the 1850’s. In 1863 twenty-two deaf schools had been established; most were founded by Clerc’s own students. 


Gallaudet University, the only deaf university in the world. From Flickr on Google “Gallaudet University sign”

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet died in 1851 and his youngest son Edward Miner Gallaudet continued his work in deaf education. Edward became a teacher at the first school his father established. Edward always wanted to establish a deaf college and in 1857 he was asked to be the superintendent of the columbia institution for the deaf, dumb and the blind in washington D.C. At this time Edward presented his idea for a deaf college to congress and they passed a legislation in 1864 that permitted the columbia institute to give college degrees. Thus the Columbia Institute’s college division (the National Deaf-Mute College) opened. In 1893, the college was renamed the Gallaudet college to honor Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. Furthermore, the college was renamed again in 1986 and is still known to this day as Gallaudet University. This university is known still to this day as being the first and only deaf university in the world.


The campus of Gallaudet from Wikimedia commons “Gallaudet University campus building”

William Stokoe in 1960 was a scholar and a hearing professor who worked at Gallaudet University. He published a dissertation that proved that american sign language is a genuine and real language with a unique syntax and grammar. ASL henceforth was recognized as a national language and this was one of the greatest events in sign language history.







MSD or Maryland School for the Deaf does offer classes for free but only to families and caregivers to students enrolled at MSD. Both Frederick Community college and Gallaudet University offer classes to take on learning ASL. Gallaudet also offers online classes to take and a summer program for in person classes as well. It is possible to watch youtube videos to learn but be aware that some could contain false information and have negative content within them. And check out the Maryland Deaf Community Center see how you can support and learn more about the deaf community in Frederick, Maryland.


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