Strange Major

How can you major in sign language? I don’t get that.

33 thoughts on “Strange Major”

  1. Why is sign language different from Spanish literature? At this point, ASL has a literature. Furthermore, there is the fascinating philosophical implications of it as a human language not based on sound.


    1. There’s no substance for a major. It’s a skill, not a field of knowledge. There’s no literature, no culture, no history. It’s like a major in driving or potato peeling. Great skills but not a field of knowledge.


        1. I sound like a person tired of the situation where real disciplines are destroyed to make space for lessons in wokesterism.

          And by the way, it’s impossible to take a single class in Russian, let alone a major, at my school. The program used to exist but it’s been destroyed. Our French and German programs will survive until the tenured profs in them retire, which is soon. And Spanish will be transformed into Latinxs / Border Studies minor with the English department.


          1. “destroyed to make space for lessons in wokesterism”

            Well a program studying a sign language should be like a minority language program and not a platform for wokesterity, but given what sounds like a massive degradation of the US higher education system it would probably be turned into cringey victimology testimonies.


  2. In terms of cultural value it sounds plausible, but in terms of staffing it does sound a bit odd (apart from a place like Gaulladet).
    Apart from the language proficiency classes there would also be classes on linguistics, interpreting, deaf culture, deaf history and political activism, sign language literature (mostly the equivalent of ‘oral’ literature in hearing cultures).
    Like I said, in terms of content it sounds workable (if you believe that it should be possible to major in a language without a formal written literature). But it would be hard to staff at most places.
    It might make more sense as a minor though again…. hard to staff in a time when tenure is being done away with (and/or being made meaningless).


        1. TOPIC of study. Great books can and have been written on sugar, tobacco, potatoes, oil, etc. as social actors, using the tools of a number of disciplines.


          1. A topic, yes. But a major? I’d have a mega problem right now designing a major even in Ukrainian because the discipline doesn’t exist. As a field of study, unfortunately, it’s not altogether in existence. For a major, there should be a field of knowledge, with subfields, specializations, etc. There should be some unanswered questions, and a lot of them. That’s why there can’t be a major in driving. It’s a crucial skill but there isn’t a field of knowledge.

            Or those majors in hotel hospitality. Does anybody really think it’s a serious major? Honestly?


      1. “One definitely can do a major in potato peeling”

        What about a Quechua major in Peru? Would you compare that to potato peeling just because there’s not much written literature?


          1. By the way, as of yesterday, we don’t have our Latin American minor any more. (There was never a major). Apparently, Latin America doesn’t matter unless it can be served in the form of English-speaking Latinex.


    1. It does make more sense as a minor and could possibly be supported by offerings in English, Communication, Speech Disorders, etc. — alternatively, it seems it could be a good M.A. project, with the right staff in place


  3. …But on the question of traditional disciplines being canceled, and majors like sign language coming in, yes. Anything that is construed as being there just for the sake of knowledge has to go; anything that can be construed as practical has to come in.


  4. I agree as far as majoring goes. For a long time, sign language was part of speech pathology majors as well as deaf education programs, not on its own as a major. While there actually is a deaf subculture and history, it can be difficult to dig up and there’s a lot of recent stigma against the hearing population. I don’t know about deaf lit (seeing as the written language that goes with ASL is still English), but poetry is very much based on imagery and specific hand shapes, which is cool.

    The truth of the matter, though, is that it’s pretty much strictly a spoken language. It does have its own grammar, slang, local dialects and sentence structure, but it’s still for all intents and purposes a spoken language, and so programs have to be built on that.


    1. Our foreign language programs are dying. I don’t think we’ll have a single one in 10 years. It’s not alarmism, it’s a clear-eyed prediction. But the speech pathology program is exploding. I think there’s a connection, actually. Language skills are disappearing, people can barely master one language, let alone two.


  5. Although I have some doubts about the content of such a major (as a minor, it could be interesting), especially from the fact that it’s a spoken-only language, I don’t think this is a wokesterism issue. The sign language is very useful, this is not about oppression olympics for rich people.


  6. This is absolutely a major, as others have mentioned there is plenty of content with Deaf culture, literature, and linguistics classes in addition to areas like education and translation. Pitting languages against each other (e.g. Spanish v. American Sign Language) and reducing them to skills are tactics for taking these disciplines down, so I’m not sure this is the route to go to protest the loss of other legitimate majors.


          1. “a major in Braille”

            Braille is just another way to write English, not equivalent to ASL (with its own grammar very different from English). ASL poetry and storytelling make use of the particular resources of the language.

            The best introduction to the idea of Deaf Culture is probably the book:
            “Deaf in America” by Carrol Padden and Tom Humphries

            It’s a popularizing book not a scholarly one, but it makes the case for Deaf culture pretty well (there’s even a Deaf creation myth included though it’s not labelled as such).


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