US Deaf News: ‘Sign language that African Americans use is different to that of whites’

Posted on September 19, 2012

Most BSL users in the UK are aware of the regional variations that mean there are often very different signs for certain words in different areas of the country. What we’re less aware of is how different signs may be used in some parts of the world due to ethnic and cultural differences.

Now, a fantastic article in the Washington Post has reported on how the sign language that African American people use is different than that of whites.

Carolyn McCaskill remembers exactly when she discovered that she couldn’t understand white people. It was 1968, she was 15 years old, and she and nine other deaf black students had just enrolled in an integrated school for the deaf in Talledega, Ala.

When the teacher got up to address the class, McCaskill was lost.

“I was dumbfounded,” McCaskill recalls through an interpreter. “I was like, ‘What in the world is going on?’ ”
The teacher’s quicksilver hand movements looked little like the sign language McCaskill had grown up using at home with her two deaf siblings and had practiced at the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind, just a few miles away. It wasn’t a simple matter of people at the new school using unfamiliar vocabularly; they made hand movements for everyday words that looked foreign to McCaskill and her fellow black students.

The article goes out to outline how McCaskill learned a new form of sign language and would switch between her old way of communicating, and the new signs she had learned depending on who she was with. She went on to research the form and grammar of Black American Sign Language.

Read the full article here:

And see some variations of the different forms of sign language here:

Photo: Cindy Andrie

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