(McHenry, IL, USA)
Undeniably, William Stokoe had a major impact on Sign Language as we know it today. Mr. Stokoe was instrumental in bringing about legislation within the US government to formally acknowledge sign language as a complete and separate language, as well as a culture, rather than just a subset of any/all other languages. Mr. Stokoe brought these changes about through his research within his graduate studies. He was able to prove conclusively that sign language is a stand alone language and culture with its own history, expressions, idioms and identity, separate from the oral language that is being signed.
Throughout his time as a student at Gallaudet, Mr. Stokoe was a part of the deaf culture and exposed to sign language, however, he was not proficient in sign language himself. According to reports, Mr. Stokoe’s ability to sign was weak at best. His studies had their emphasis on the linguistics and culture that has evolved within the deaf and hard of hearing community.
Mr. Stokoe did not stop at being instrumental in the official recognition of sign language. He also invented a written notation of sign language–a way of being able to type a certain grouping of letters, numbers and symbols to illustrate a sign based on the Roman alphabet, not pictographs. The notations he invented included all of the necessary information for one to properly formulate the signs with each part of the typed/written notation corresponding to handshape, positioning, and other variables within the signed language. Although this notation is not widely used, there is a certain amount of usefulness that one can appreciate in the ability to have a clear and concise method for teaching sign language as well as a continuing standard for others to remember the traditional signs. As with any language, there is a certain amount of change that is taking place within signing in response to newer ideas and changing vocabularies. With Stokoe’s Notation, we will always have the knowledge of the traditions that have been before.
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