Preservation of ASL Review

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Video Review by Chris Wixtrom,
with Debby Morris, Indhira Dixon
and Marjorie Arbuckle            
© 1999

The Preservation of American Sign Language
VHS, 90 minutes
The Preservation of American Sign Language: The Complete Historical Collection
VHS, 120 minutes

Available from:

Sign Media, Inc., 4020 Blackburn Lane, Burtonsville, MD 20866-1167
Phone: 800.475.4756 (v/tty), FAX: 301.421.0270
URL: www.signmedia.com; Email: SignMedia1@aol.com

Those who use American Sign Language (ASL) today would do well to recognize the heroes of the past who championed this language and preserved it for our benefit. We are fortunate to have shining examples of these great people saved on film and re-recorded on videotape through a partnership between Sign Media, Inc. and Gallaudet University Archives.

These unique videotapes are available in two different formats. The Preservation of American Sign Language is a 90-minute videotape showing portions of eight archival sign language presentations, along with comments on historical changes in sign language usage and background information about the signers. The Complete Historical Collection of the Preservation of American Sign Language includes the full text of fifteen vintage sign language films (120 minutes total) which are presented without interruption. (On this video, there are no introductions, comments, captions or voice-overs.) With each version, we have opportunity to savor sign samples from respected ASL-users, such as E.M. Gallaudet, E.A. Fay, I. Hotchkiss, R. McGregor, A. Draper, G. Doughtery and George Veditz.

Watching these carefully preserved portions of visual history, we are reminded that the push for oralism in education and the negative societal attitudes towards sign language have been no match for the spirit of Deaf people. Although methods, rules, and systems have been forced on the Deaf by those who would set the appearance of hearing as the highest standard for humanity, none of these influences have destroyed loyalty to the "beautiful language of sign." No speech-based system of manual English introduced during our time has been able to replace the natural signed language preferred by Deaf people for everyday conversation, formal presentations, and artistic expression. ASL continues to breathe strong. Millions of Deaf people, long ago and even now, use ASL, a language, like artwork, created by hand and appreciated by eye.

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