William Stokoe: The Man Who Changed the World

William Stokoe is known throughout the ASL community as the “father of ASL linguistics”. Some might consider him a hero. He was the man who researches about the language and proved that sign language is an actual language. Even though many people doubted him and didn’t support him, he pushed through and ended changing the world with his success.

At the beginning of the research, he had little to no experience with Deaf people, their language, and the culture around them. Regardless, he began his research at Gallaudet University, a private university for the deaf and hard of hearing. After observing the students for some time, Stokoe noticed that sign language contained the features of an actual language. Even though he claimed that sign language is an actual language, his associates completely disagreed with Stokoe’s idea. Despite the lack of support, he continued with his research. After years of careful studying and observation, Stokoe was able to contradict his colleagues’ ideas of sign language not being a language. He ended up writing a paper called Sign Language Structure. His paper ultimately changed the ideas of language not only logically but also scientifically.

Essentially, he gave life to a community that wasn’t that well known or appreciated. He shined a new light on the language and culture and because of that, ASL is no longer a joke. Even when he retired, later on, he continued to work in the SIgn Language area, lecturing students, writing novels, and editing papers.

The creation of sign language has completely changed the world and how it functions. If you turn on the news, sometimes in the corner, there’s someone signing so that deaf people can understand what’s going on. There are even videos on the internet of singers having people who sign at their concerts so that they can enjoy the show just like everyone else and won’t miss out. Nowadays there’s sign language almost everywhere, it’s absolutely incredible.

-Phoebe L.

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