ASL (and Latin!) With Fries

By Dennis Jones Jr.

In "ASL With Fries," Mark Drolsbaugh makes a fairly convincing argument for the inclusion of American Sign Language (ASL) in the foreign language curriculums of high schools and colleges across the nation. This is something I wholeheartedly support. After all, ASL is a separate language. It has its own grammar, syntax, rules of usage, and so forth. There is no reason why it shouldn’t be offered as an option.

But, then, Mark did the unthinkable. He had the audacity . . . the pomposity . . . the arrogance . . . the gall . . . the chutzpah . . . the haughtiness . . . to say that Latin is of limited use in today’s world.

OK, time to come to a screeching halt! Put on the brakes! Man the lifeboats! Women and children first! Abandon ship! Take cover! Fire in the hole!

Consider this statement from "ASL With Fries": What use does the average high school student have for Latin?

Now, let me clear something up here. I’m not a linguist. I’m no expert on language. I almost failed grammar class in junior high school. I can identify a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective, and the occasional conjunction. The first time I saw the word gerund, I thought it was a German import and when I first encountered the phrase dangling participle, I thought it referred to some sort of New Age pornography involving an amoeba.

But, Latin. Ah, Latin! I took two years of it during my undergraduate years and silly looking togas, tacky pillars, and insane emperors who burned Rome to the ground notwithstanding, it’s one of the most beautiful languages I’ve ever encountered. It is also one of the most useful languages around.

Yes, I said useful. Did you know that six out of ten words in the English language have Latin roots? That means that 60% of our modern language is due to Latin. Did you also know that Latin has had a similarly strong influence on the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages?

I cannot recall the number of times I have come across an unfamiliar vocabulary word and was able to figure out its meaning because I recognized the Latin root of the word. I have had similar experiences when I’ve looked at things written in a language other than English.

William Stokoe (bless and rest his soul) researched American Sign Language extensively and was instrumental in proving that ASL is a bona fide language, rather than a simplified form of broken English as was previously believed. Since ASL had no written form, he developed what is known as the Stokoe Notation.

Guess what? The Stokoe Notation is not pictographic. It is heavily influenced by the Latin alphabet!

So now we see that Latin has not only influenced English and a host of other languages, it has also played a role in having one of the most beautiful languages known to man achieve official recognition as a viable form of communication.

What use is Latin, indeed!


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