Two years after the program’s inception, this semester marks the first time that students have been able to fulfill the University’s language requirement using the American Sign Language (ASL) sequence. The sequence, which starts with ASL 101 and finishes with ASL 107, allows students to learn ASL while being exposed to Deaf culture and studies.
ASL 107: Advanced American Sign Language currently has 21 students enrolled across two sections.
“This group has been incredible to work with,” wrote Noah Buchholz, who teaches ASL 107, in a message to The Daily Princetonian. “It has been incredible to see how much more visual and spatial their signing has become since they started the sequence. It is one of the things about the ASL program here at Princeton that I’m proud of.”
Buchholz is a Lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and Program in Linguistics, as well as the ASL Course Sequence Head.
Buchholz is also a Ph.D. candidate in Religion and Society at the Princeton Theological Seminary.
“Taking the ASL sequence has been the best decision that I've made at Princeton,” wrote Paige Landry ’25 in an email to the ‘Prince.’
In a message to the ‘Prince,’ Daniel Maier, a lecturer in the linguistics program, called his time teaching ASL 101 and ASL 102 “an incredible and eye-opening experience.”
“Really, the students get to see a new way of looking at language in which the hands and the body convey the words and the space around us drives the grammar,” he wrote.
Maier is also a Ph.D. student in linguistics at Gallaudet University.
Both Maier and Buchholz are Deaf, which several students said was incredibly beneficial to their learning experience.
“I think it is incredibly important to learn ASL from Deaf professors,” remarked Rhim Andemichael ’24. “Having a Deaf professor also allows students who may have never met a Deaf person to practice communicating in a way that adheres to Deaf social and communicative norms.”
“It really is learning through immersion,” said William Cauley ’24, a student in ASL 107. “The first day of 101, we have an interpreter. But after that, it's entirely on us.”
“It also helps me [be] more driven as a student,” Gavin Molloy ’25 told the ‘Prince.’
Both professors and students also expressed the ways in which learning ASL was very different from other languages.
“Sign language is multidimensional, while spoken language is linear,” wrote Buchholz. “So, throughout the sequence, [students] have been working on shifting from thinking linearly to thinking visually and spatially.”
“I was really fascinated by the language because it isn’t written on paper or produced via spoken words,” said Veronica Zhang ’25. “ASL is created by the hands, body movement, and facial expressions, and I thought that was absolutely amazing.”
“I definitely think that students have come to gain an appreciation of American Sign Language as being far more multifaceted than what might be shown online or on television,” said Maier.
In previous years, the University has also offered LIN 205: A Survey of American Sign Language and LIN 215: American Deaf Culture, both taught by Buchholz. LIN 205 discusses the basics of ASL and communication with Deaf people with methods different from signs such as body language. The course also includes elements of Deaf culture and history.
LIN 215 focuses more specifically on these aspects, examining things such as Deaf literature and art, as well as political and ethical issues facing Deaf people. According to the course description, these include disability rights, bioethics, and ableism.
However, until this semester, there has not been an advanced ASL course. LIN 205 and ASL 101 are considered concurrent classes, and LIN 215 requires no prior ASL knowledge at all. In an email to the ‘Prince,’ Buchholz said that there would “definitely” be 200+ level ASL classes offered in the fall of next year.
Both professors, as well as many of the students, spoke to the importance of learning about ASL and Deaf culture.
“I strongly believe that studying sign language and Deaf culture helps one better understand disability issues in general. Unfortunately, disability issues have been largely marginalized in academia,” Buchholz wrote to the ‘Prince.’ He added that he hopes increased learning of ASL will “help affect a paradigm shift in academia” that results in “a much needed inclusion of disability issues in different disciplines.”
“Increasing the amount of hearing people who know ASL will reduce the workload of Deaf Americans as well as normalize Deaf and hard of hearing experiences in society,” wrote Andemichael. “To me, knowing ASL should be as common as speaking English in the U.S.”
Maier wrote that learning about ASL and Deaf studies issues makes students “more aware of dimensions of the systemic issues around the Deaf community rather than the thinking that the community, or the individual, would be defined by what could or could not be done physically.”
“This, I think, goes straight to the heart of understanding how ableism has come to influence much of our perceptions about language and culture,” he said.
Maier’s sentiment was similarly echoed by students.
“It’s a different mode of communication that is really helpful to tap into,” said Natasha Hurwitch ’24. “I wish everyone would take at least one semester.”
Miriam Waldvogel is an assistant News editor at the ‘Prince.’
Aniket Mukherji is a senior News contributor at the ‘Prince.’
Please send any corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.