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Black ASL (BASL):

By: Leah Ogunnupe

May 29 2021

When we talk about Deaf culture or the Deaf Community, we usually talk about it as a whole and it is not broken down further as how the Black Deaf experience is different from the Deaf experience as a whole. Before integration, Black people were not allowed to get an education including Black Deaf people, they were Deaf but they were still Black. A school for Deaf children was created in 1817 but Deaf Black children didn't get education until the 1850s. Black Deaf children knew ‘home signs' before they were educated. These signs systems are made in families with deaf children raised by hearing parents who are isolated from the Deaf community, specifically the White Deaf people who created ASL. Black Deaf culture and Deaf culture as a whole share similarities which comes with being Deaf, but there are also differences with Black Deaf people mostly being raised by Black hearing parents and the effect Black culture had on shaping Black Deaf Culture.

ASL is influenced by French Sign Language and was used to educate Deaf students by Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudet, they opened a school for Deaf children in 1817. The school taught this language to students and teachers of Deaf children which they then brought back to schools in regions all over the country. And like languages all over the world including North America dialects (variations of a particular language) are formed. Black ASL, although a doubted existence, is ASL signed in a different manner than ASL known to most Deaf people in North America. As previously stated most Black Deaf children are born to hearing parents and are a part of Deaf culture as well as Black American culture, and will exhibit linguistic characteristics of both cultures (Toliver-Smith, A., & Gentry, B. 2017). ASL and African American English (AAE) mix to form Black ASL as a result of ASL and displayed traits of AAE coming into contact from Black Deaf signers. Noticeable features of Black ASL are more expressive and larger signs which may be hard to hold a conversation with people who do not use this dialect.

"The 1980s witnessed the beginning of the Black Deaf renaissance", the 1980s are referred to the beginning of the Black Deaf renaissance because of the emergence of the National Black Deaf Advocates (NBDA) and a published book by Ernest Hairston and Linwood Smith called "Black and Deaf in America: Are We That Different?", which discussed Black and White Deaf communities and was a source of inspiration for "The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure" by Carolyn McCaskill, Joseph Christopher Hill, Robert Bayley, and Ceil Lucas which deepened the understanding of Black ASL (Anderson, G., & Dunn, L, 2016). Black ASL signers noticed a difference when they integrated to White Deaf schools and found that they could not understand White Deaf People. Some of the differences noted was the use of two handed signs versus one handed signs, the location of signs was lower as Black ASL signed more towards the forehead area, White signers used a smaller signing space, and the incorporation of AAE in their signing.
Even though there are Black and White people who share the identity of being Deaf, social and geographic differences shape a group of people to form a new culture. The intersectionality of being Deaf and Black defined a group of people and formed a new culture within both communities.




Hill, J. (2017). The Importance of the Sociohistorical Context in Sociolinguistics: The Case of Black ASL. Sign Language Studies, 18(1), 41-57. Retrieved May 26, 2021, from

Toliver-Smith, A., & Gentry, B. (2017). Investigating Black ASL: A Systematic Review. American Annals of the Deaf, 161(5), 560-570. Retrieved May 26, 2021, from

Anderson, G., & Dunn, L. (2016). Assessing Black Deaf History: 1980s to the Present. Sign Language Studies, 17(1), 71-77. Retrieved May 26, 2021, from





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