Students who wish to enroll in ASL courses must register here to request an override. Unfortunately, only a limited number of seats are available.
Why study American Sign Language?
American Sign Language (ASL) is the language of the Deaf community in the United States and much of Canada. ASL uses a gestural-visual modality in which manual signs, facial expressions, and body movements and postures all convey complex linguistic information. It is a fully developed language, with its own systems for articulation, forming words and sentences, and meaning. ASL is separate from English, and is also distinct from other signed languages. An excellent example of the separateness of signed languages from each other and from the surrounding spoken language(s) is that, although English is the shared spoken language of the U.S. and Britain, speakers of ASL do not understand speakers of British Sign Language.
ASL is estimated to be the fourth most commonly used language in the U.S. Through learning the preferred language of the Deaf community, students who study ASL gain access to the rich cultural heritage of that community, which includes a distinguished tradition of visual poetry, narrative, and theater. Students of ASL also learn about other aspects of American Deaf culture, including the values and outlooks of Deaf people, and social and educational aspects of deafness.
Students of ASL may find that they gain a new perspective on how human languages are structured. Through learning a language that uses a different modality of expression than the oral-auditory modality of spoken languages, students begin to discover properties that are common to all languages. Linguists' research on the commonalities between signed and spoken language provides strong evidence that all languages are governed by the same basic properties.
Finally, study of ASL also provides practical training for students entering a range of professions in the field of deafness, and may strengthen students' qualifications for various non-deafness careers.
The ASL Program at Michigan
The Department of Linguistics offers a 5-course sequence in American Sign Language. Introduction to Deaf Culture (Linguistics 140) serves as a pre- or co-requisite to the beginning language courses. The four-semester sequence of language courses (Linguistics 150, 151, 250, 251) may be used to fulfill the undergraduate language requirement of the College of Literature, Science, and Arts.
Linguistics 140: Introduction to Deaf Culture
This course introduces students to Deaf culture within the United States, and focuses on the link between culture and language (in this case, American Sign Language). An analysis of medical and cultural models of perceiving deafness is investigated to familiarize students with the range of perceptions held by members of the cultural majority and the effect it has on the Deaf community. The influencing factors of educational systems on deaf children are reviewed to understand the link between language systems used in the classroom and the development of a Deaf identity. The historical roots of American Sign Language and the value of language preservation provide for additional overview of attitudes in American society. Social adaptations to deafness and individual factors of communicative and linguistic development are analyzed for understanding the implications of family and social systems on deaf children and adults.
Linguistics 150 and 151: Elementary American Sign Language.
These beginning courses in American Sign Language (ASL) introduce students to basic grammatical structures and sign vocabulary through intensive classroom conversational interactions involving everyday topics. Emphasis is on practical communicative functions as students learn how to communicate in a visual-gestural channel. Classroom work is supplemented by videotaped workbook and laboratory exercises to facilitate development of receptive language skills. These courses are conducted exclusively in ASL and regular attendance is essential.
Linguistics 250 and 251: Intermediate American Sign Language
Students in the intermediate courses in ASL learn more advanced communicative forms including understanding the essential role of facial communication (non-manual behaviors) in forming expressions. Additional vocabulary including idiomatic expressions are introduced to expand students' abilities to understand and converse appropriately in various settings. Through a conversational approach, students also continue to study selected literature, history, culture, and outlooks of Deaf people in order to develop an understanding of appropriate standards of communicating in ASL. Students completing Linguistics 250 and 251 will have acquired a basic understanding of how to communicate in a visual-gestural channel in order to receive and express ASL sentences in everyday conversational interactions.