University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


This paper explores how language attitudes and ideologies impact perceptions of language varieties in the American Deaf community, with a particular focus on Black ASL, the variety of ASL developed by African Americans in the South during the era of segregation. Results of multivariate analysis show that on a number of dimensions, Black ASL, particularly as used by signers who attended school before integration, is closer to the standard variety taught in ASL classes and used in ASL dictionaries. Nevertheless, despite evidence that their variety is closer to the standard taught in ASL classes, many of the older signers interviewed felt that white signing was superior. Attitudes among the younger signers were more mixed. While a few younger signers said that white signing was better than Black signing, others said that Black signing was more powerful in expression and movement and it had rhythm and style while white signing was more monotonic and lacked emotion. This paper explores the complex mix of attitudes expressed by study participants in the six Southern states in relation to the historical development of this distinctive variety of ASL.