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The History of ASL

Long before ASL existed, there were several signing systems set up by Deaf people, including a signing system used by the Great Plains Indians all over America. The tale of how Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, a minister, brought Laurent Clerc, a Deaf French teacher, to America is the most well-known one. After attempting to teach his neighbor Mason Cogswell's Deaf daughter Alice, Mr. Gallaudet decided to fly to Paris to visit a Deaf school. Mr. Gallaudet met Laurent Clerc and asked him to accompany him on his trip back to America. Upon their arrival, the two men founded a Deaf school in Hartford, Connecticut called “American School for the Deaf” (ASD) in 1817. The school grew quickly as a result of many deaf students attending the school from all corners of America.

For a long time, however, outsiders thought ASL was not a real language - that it was a language full of gestures and imagery. It was not until the 1960s, after William Stokoe’s linguistic research, that ASL was recognized as a full, natural, and legitimate language.