Sylvie Charron, professor of French. (Photo Courtesy of UMF website)

By Kerri-Lyn Hernandez – President

There have been many debates at the University of Maine at Farmington (UMF) about whether or not American Sign Language (ASL) should count as a foreign language credit, as currently UMF does not allow the class to count toward the humanities credit as Spanish or French would.

“I would support the fact that it is a language,” said Diane St. Lawrence, ASL professor at UMF and has been teaching ASL for twenty years. “There’s been some controversy and… I encourage students to fight the system. Some people feel it’s more beneficial for them than a foreign language would be. I do support the pursuit of the issue.”

Sylvie Charron, part of the department of languages said, it is not an accredited language because “sign language is a system of signs, certainly useful to a given population, but unlike foreign languages, it does not represent a culture with music, art, geography, history, literature and so on.” Charron believes that ASL should be compared to “computer language, or math: a system of signs.”

However; Sherman Wilcox, Ph.D., in ASL as a Foreign Language Fact Sheet, notes that “It is not a ‘simplified’ language – it contains structures and processes.”

“I very much so think it should count as a language. It is a language used all over the world in one variation or another. It helps a culture communicate to one another like English helps Americans communicate,” said Brittany Milligan, a junior at UMF and past student of the ASL course. “It has its own ways of setting up sentences and has different signs for different objects like we have different words for different objects.”

Another student agreed with Milligan that ASL should be an accredited language class, “Many people do not realize, myself included before I took the class, that sign language is not a direct translation of English,” said Katie Beyea, a senior at UMF.

St. Lawrence believes there to be a lot of deaf people all around and when there are more people educated in sign language, the deaf feel for more at ease and comfortable being able to communicate. “It is a language,” said St. Lawrence.