Lessons to Learn: Looking through the Intersectional Lens on the Study of Black ASL in Sign Language Studies

Joseph Hill

Associate Professor, Department of ASL and Interpreting Education
Associate Director, Center on Culture and Language
National Technical Institutes for the Deaf
Rochester Institute of Technology

12:00-1:00pm Central Time, Friday, March 8, 2024

Joseph Hill

About the lecture

Beginning with the 2011 publication of The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure, Black ASL is celebrated across mainstream and social media, boosted by the subsequent academic publications and presentations of Black ASL and the 2020 release of the documentary Signing Black in America which is currently available on YouTube. The documentation and public education of Black ASL are the main goals for the authors of The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL, but this is not the first study of Black ASL.

In the 1960s, Black ASL was briefly mentioned in an academic publication, A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles by William C. Stokoe, Dorothy Casterline, and Carl Croneberg and then in the 1970s, James Woodward and his colleagues published a few articles on what they called “Black Southern Signing.” Since then, Black ASL was largely neglected in education and research until 2011 when The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL was published. This indicates a long-lasting impact of the decisions made by ASL linguistic and documentation scholars who happened to be non-Black. Because of these decisions, that created an absence of Black ASL in the sign language curriculum materials that have been used for decades in ASL classes, interpreting programs, deaf education trainings, and Deaf Studies programs.

Even with the eventual growth of content materials on Black ASL following the 2011 publication, the public’s demands for more information outpaces the production of Black ASL studies due to the limitation of academic resources. The limitation is related to the intersectionality of racism and audism, and the systems of oppression based on race and communication ability, which influence the socio-linguistic and -historical factors in the development and maintenance of Black ASL and the academic pipeline of Black Deaf scholars in social science.


About the speaker

Dr. Joseph C. Hill is an Associate Professor in the Department of ASL and Interpreting Education and Associate Director of the Center on Culture and Language at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institutes for the Deaf. His research interests are the socio-historical and -linguistic aspects of Black American Sign Language and the American Deaf community’s attitudes and ideologies about existing signing varieties. His contributions include The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (2011) which he co-authored with Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, and Robert Bayley and Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community (2012). He is also one of the associate producers for the documentary, Signing Black in America, produced by the Language & Life Project at the North Carolina State University. Link: www.josephchill.com


Sponsors: Language Institute and Language Sciences

Funding: Anonymous Fund

Contact: Dianna Murphy

The UW-Madison Language Institute is committed to inclusive and accessible programming. To request an accommodation for this event, please contact Language Institute associate director Jana Martin three business days in advance.