FAQ

Who will teach the ASL courses this coming year (2019-20)?

A new instructor, Michael (“Mikey”) Barrett, will be offering the ASL courses. He received a BS in Psychology from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2007 and an MA in Deaf Studies in 2014 from Gallaudet University. He’s very happy to be joining Yale this summer! Jessica Tanner, the beloved first lector in ASL in Yale’s history, has moved to a position at the University of Connecticut, which is much closer to home for her.

Are enrollments capped?

Enrollment in ASL 110 will be capped at 16. We will offer two sections of the course, though we recognize that student demand might be greater than the two sections can accommodate.

How will students be chosen for ASL 110?

If you’re interested in taking ASL 110, please write a message to the instructor (michael.a.barrett@yale.edu) by the end of the first day of classes. Let him know why you’d like to take the course and, in particular, whether

  • you plan to fulfill the language requirement with ASL
  • you have an academic or a research interest related to ASL
  • you have a particular personal reason for taking ASL

One paragraph will suffice (please limit your answers to a maximum of one page).

Do ASL courses count toward fulfillment of the Foreign Language Requirement (FLR)?

Yes, they do. Please consult the academic regulations for information about the foreign language distributional requirement.

Can a student with prior knowledge of ASL place at a higher level?

Yes. Students who have prior knowledge of ASL may be placed in a higher-level course. They should contact the ASL Lector, Mikey Barrett, before the beginning of the term to set up an individual appointment. For more information, see the CLS page on language placement tests.

Do ASL courses count toward the Linguistics major?

Like all other language courses, ASL courses do not count toward the major in Linguistics.

Why are ASL courses offered through the Department of Linguistics?

Linguists study the properties of human language in general and may focus their research on a particular language or language family, but usually don’t teach languages. ASL is offered through the Linguistics Department at Yale because students and faculty in linguistics took the lead in the initiative of adding it to the Yale curriculum and, in the absence of a department of Modern Languages, the Department of Linguistics can provide a good home for the lectors in ASL.

Why was ASL not part of the language offerings until recently?

The realization that sign languages are languages in their own right is relatively recent.  It was only in the 1960s that linguists started studying them and realized that they have the same underlying structure and are processed and learned in the same way as spoken languages. Quoting an official publication of the Linguistic Society of America on the topic, written by David Perlmutter, a prominent linguist and former president of the Society:

What has been discovered over the past half century is that sign language is language. This is not just a discovery about sign language; it is a discovery about language itself. It reveals human language to be more flexible than had been imagined, able to exist in either auditory or visual form. It shows that the human drive for language is so strong that when deafness makes speech inaccessible, it finds another channel, creating language in sign. Sign language has taught us that human language can use either channel – speech or sign. It is a living testament to the fact that language is what we all need to be human. (…)

The discovery that sign languages are languages in their own right has led to the blossoming of literary culture in sign. With a new sense of pride in their language and culture, and rooted in Deaf people’s strong story-telling tradition, a new generation of Deaf writers, playwrights, and poets has begun to explore the ways sign languages can be used to create works of art. They have produced literary works in sign languages – stories, plays, and poetry – performed and disseminated on videotape.

Given that the realization that sign languages are languages came only fifty years ago, it is not surprising that ASL has not been offered as a subject of study from the beginning. We are delighted that we have finally filled this gap in our offerings!

Who uses ASL?

American Sign Language is used as a primary means of communication by many Deaf people in the United States and Canada, as well as by many hard-of-hearing and hearing individuals, especially the children of Deaf adults. It is often said to be the fourth most-used language in the United States, though the exact number of users is hard to establish.

Are ASL courses open to members of the broader non-Yale community?

Unfortunately, they are not.

I’d like to know more about how Yale started offering ASL classes. Who can I contact?

You can contact Raffaella Zanuttini (raffaella.zanuttini@yale.edu) or Nelleke Van Deusen-Scholl (nelleke.vandeusen-scholl@yale.edu).

Have there been activities related to ASL other than the courses?

Yes. On November 30th, 2017, Ezra Stiles hosted a College Tea, to celebrate the beginning of ASL courses at Yale and to welcome the first ASL lector, Jessica Tannen. On November 9th, 2018, the Linguistics Department hosted a panel, Sign Language and the Mind: Their history Science and Power. This panel was recorded with closed captions and the video is available on the Yale University YouTube channel:

How has the introduction of ASL courses to the Yale curriculum been received?