sealPurdue News

September 1997

Demand high for college sign language classes

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: A color photo of an American Sign language instructor is available. It's called Brentari.ASL.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue University has doubled the number of instructors teaching American Sign Language on its West Lafayette campus this year, but for every student enrolled in a class, two to three more are turned away.

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"This is not a unique situation," says Diane Brentari, an American Sign Language linguist who leads the program at Purdue. "Demand for college-level sign language classes is increasing nationally, but every state and every university handles its courses differently."

At Purdue, the American Sign Language Program is based in the Department of Audiology and Speech Sciences. All eight sections being offered this fall are filled to capacity, meaning 160 students got the class they requested. Brentari estimates that as many as 400 more students did not.

A few years ago, the majority of students signed up for these classes were speech, education or nursing majors. But starting in the fall of 1993, the university approved sign language for foreign language credit, and demand for classes soared.

"Signing is a language that is indigenous to the United States," Brentari says. "Students realize that in this country they are likely to run into a deaf person during the course of their everyday lives."

Students learning American Sign Language have similar difficulties as those learning any foreign language. "Signing and reading someone else's signs are two very different skills, just as speaking a foreign language is different from being able to understand it," Brentari explains. And because signing is visual and gestural, she says, it offers a different perspective on language learning.

She says the classes have always been a popular option for future educators and health care professionals, but now business majors are starting to jump on the bandwagon.

"Not only do students see American Sign Language as a skill that will really stand out on their resume -- but businesses are also beginning to recognize the marketing opportunities with this particular population," Brentari says. "Deaf people are consumers, too."

CONTACT: Brentari, (765) 494-3789; e-mail, brentari


American Sign Language classes are filled to capacity at Purdue. This popular class provides a different perspective on learning a foreign language because it's visual and gestural, as instructor Donald Haring demonstrates. (Purdue News Service Photo by David Umberger)
Color photo, electronic transmission, and Web and ftp download available. Photo ID: Brentari.ASL
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