Justin M. Power deposited Did deaf education and the emergence of American Sign Language trigger the decline of Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language? in the group History of Linguistics and Language Study on Humanities Commons 1 year, 3 months ago
In discussions of the history of American Sign Language (ASL), a village sign language—Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL)—has been identified as a possible contributor to ASL and to its differentiation from French Sign Language (LSF; cf. Groce 1985: 73-74, Lane et al 2011: 76, Poole Nash 2015: 611). On this account, MVSL contributed to ASL through the presence of students from Martha’s Vineyard at the first school for the deaf in the United States, the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in Hartford. In that school’s first 50 years (1817-1867), 20 students from Martha’s Vineyard were among the 1700 students who attended ASD; the first three students from Martha’s Vineyard arrived together in 1825. Here we examine contact between island and mainland deaf populations from the opposite perspective; in particular, we discuss the impact that deaf education and the emergent ASL may have had on the vitality of MVSL. We report a detailed analysis of multiple historical records—including censuses, marriage records, ASD’s admission records, and ASD’s records about alumni residences and occupations—showing that the deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard was, in the 19th and 20th centuries, smaller than has been previously understood and that the community was better integrated into the wider Deaf community that formed in New England after 1817. Because the deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard was relatively small and because of its connections to the wider Deaf community, MVSL had likely been strongly impacted by the emergent ASL as early as the 1840s.