American Sign Language: The Impact it Made on Deaf People


"Aristotle Bust" (Jastrow, 2006​​​​​​​)

In 335 B.C, Aristotle said, “Those who are born deaf all become senseless and incapable of reason.” St. Paul and St. Augustine, two prominent early Christian leaders, reinforced this deep-seated prejudice, saying, “This impairment prevents faith.” and “Faith comes through hearing.” (Poor, 1974). Deaf people were considered unteachable “non-persons”, sometimes prohibited from marrying in case deafness spread. 

In the 1800s, no standard sign language existed. Deaf Americans used simple hand gestures, or Old ASL. In an isolated city, Chilmark, Massachusetts, the deaf rate was 1/25. There, people developed their own sign language, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), used by both deaf and hearing residents.

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