William C. Stokoe Jr, A Present History In The Making

by Monique Fournier-Lavoie


(Whitefish, ON Canada)

After having carefully read and reread Step Three in The ASL Student’s Essential Guide To Learning American Sign Language And Getting Involved In The Deaf Community, I took an immediate interest in the work and dedication of William C. Stokoe Jr. (1919-2000)

I went on to further educate myself via Google the history of this man by typing in his name and reading an article by Jamie Berke, About.com: Deafness which was updated December 07, 2008.

It read, “before Stokoe began his work, sign language was not seen as a real language. Instead, it was seen as a collection of meaningless gestures or pantomime. This viewpoint was preventing sign language from gaining respect and from being used in education of deaf children.”

Ok, right there is where it caught my attention. Children are of such important aspect of each of our lives and it was fast moving in the destruction of our future leaders. Each generation is made up of the education we give to our little ones and what they will bring to society as a whole, whether, hearing, deaf, blind, debilitated with disease or otherwise.

Mr. Stokoe saw the writing on the wall when the Milan Conference nearly destroyed any kind of future promise for the children of our future society.

Before arriving at Gallaudet College, (now University) William Stokoe estimated that of the American and Canadian users of ASL was only two hundred thousand for the estimated four hundred thousand deaf people of these two nations. He saw the need to accomplish the goal of reintroducing ASL as a distinct actual language for all people’s of the deaf and hard of hearing communities so that the majority of humans in the hearing societies would understand and know how valuable each individual was in their own rights.

Futher quoted, “in 1957, Stokoe and two assistants (Carl Croneberg and Dorothy Casterline) began to film people using sign language. Studying the filmed sign language, Stokoe and his team identified the elements of a real language being used. The results of their research were published in 1960 in a research monograph, “Sign Language Structure.” The sign language research continued, and in 1965 his team published the book A Dictionary Of American Sign language On Linguistic Principles. This dictionary is the very book that caught the people’s attention and sparked a growing interest in the linguistics of ASL.”

Mr. Stokoe saw that it was necessary for the children and people’s of America to see and understand that ASL was both a native and natural language in that it took practice to learn the different finger/hand movements to understand what was being said while the natural movement of the body which we call today Non-Manual Markers was a natural reaction to the gestures which make up ASL.

Although Mr. William C. Stokoe Jr. is not the founding father of the deaf education, he is a resounding detrimental piece of the ASL puzzle of education. His work and dedication to the rights of the deaf community leave an impressive stamp on the hearts of many people for which I am one. My granddaughter, Rebecca who was born in Thailand, void of ASL education, parents not finding the time to learn due to their over bearing schedules as missionaries in a foreign country, and facing a life threatening disease of Leukodystrophy is deaf and unlearned for these passed eight years and now has an opportunity to communicate with the dedicated individuals who will take the time to learn a new (and exciting I might add), language that will fulfill her communication needs.

Thank you to the memory of Mr. William C. Stokoe Jr.

Comments for William C. Stokoe Jr, A Present History In The Making

Oct 29, 2010

Reading William C. Stokoe Jr books

by: Paul


I enjoy reading his writings a favorite; I’m reading now
“LANGUAGE IN HAND” Why Sign Came Before Speech