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american sign language

American Sign Language

American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a natural visual-spatial language which is governed by complex linguistic rules and parameters that are distinct from spoken and written languages. It is most commonly used by the Deaf Community in the United States and Canada. The Deaf Community is a rich, vibrant linguistic community who share a common set of social beliefs, behaviors, art, literary traditions, history, and values.


Why ASL?

American Sign Language (ASL) is an indigenous rich, complex language and Clemson University is the only public university in South Carolina that offers a Modern Languages baccalaureate degree in American Sign Language (ASL). ASL has been offered at Clemson University since 2000 and Clemson is one of 172 other four-year institutions including Brown, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Virginia Tech, and Yale (Wilcox, 2014). The Modern Languages Association (MLA) indicated nationwide enrolment in ASL courses increased 6,583% change from 1990-2016 which repositioned ASL as the third most studied languages on college campuses in the United States. “Students find that studying an indigenous American language gives them another perspective on American life and culture. Those who receive advanced training and certification in sign language interpreting will also find that there is demand for highly qualified interpreters in education, government, and business (MLA, 2009, p. 3).”

In other words, according to the Modern Language Association (MLA), ASL is America’s fastest growing language and is an exciting part of the Clemson Department of Languages. Like any spoken language, ASL is a language with its own unique rules of grammar and syntax. The linguistics of ASL are very different from English. As a visual-gestural language, the shape, placement, and movement of the hands, as well as non-manual markers, all play important parts in ASL discourse. As a visual language (modality difference) ASL can be slightly more difficult to learn than other languages (Jacobs, 1996; McKee and McKee, 1992). Again, ASL is not mime or a coded system of English, rather, it is a rich, vibrant language with its own morphology and grammar.

The origins of ASL can be traced back to Abee de l’Epee in Paris, France in the mid-18th century. From there it can be traced to Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudet bringing French Sign Language (LSF) to America in 1817 (Lane, Hoffmeister, and Bahan, 1996) The blending of LSF and the signed language of the early 1600’s used by English settlers on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, were the linguistic skeletons for modern ASL. As all languages grow, so too did ASL and it has been passed from one generation among members of the Deaf Community to the next to remain a viable language to this day. ASL is truly an indigenous American language and at Clemson University, you are able to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Modern Languages with a concentration in ASL.

What Does It Offer?

ASL-English Educational Interpreting Minor

The ASL-English Educational Interpreting minor coursework is a 15-credit hour emphasis is designed to prepare Modern Language: ASL students as entry-level interpreters to work with students who are Deaf in K-12 classrooms. The Educational Interpreting Minor transitions from language learning to applied linguistics with coursework focusing on the transfer of meaning between languages specifically in the educational setting. Each ASL-English educational interpreting student does field observation and an interpreting internship coursework.  Entrance into the program requires demonstration of advanced ASL fluency.

ASL Studies Minor

The American Sign Language (ASL) Studies minor fosters an understanding of Deaf culture and communication through the study of language.  The ASL Studies minor includes elementary through intermediate level language and culture courses, as well as academic experiences that highlight expressive and receptive competencies in a visual-gestural language, and overview of the Deaf community.   The ASL Studies minor, builds a solid knowledge of ASL and the Deaf Community and allows students to integrate those foundations into their academic disciplines.  A minor in ASL Studies, however, does not lead to becoming an interpreter.

ASL-English Educational Interpreter Certificate

This Certificate is designed for non-degree seeking students with advanced fluency in ASL.  The ASL-English Educational Interpreting Certificate includes an 18-credit hour course of study designed to prepare students as entry-level interpreters to work with students who are Deaf in K-12 classrooms. Studies focus on interpreter processing skills, continued sign vocabulary development, the transfer of meaning between languages, as well as, a specialized focus on interpreting in the educational setting. Courses are not offered online and entrance into the program requires demonstration of advanced ASL fluency.

Contact information

The Clemson University ASL Program faculty have been recognized by the Deaf Community both statewide and nationally for its unique offerings and native-signer services. Clemson University is actively invited to participate in numerous statewide meetings because of its unique relationship with the Deaf Community.

Bo Clements
702 Strode Tower

Giving to ASL



Department of Languages
Department of Languages | 717 Strode Tower, Clemson, SC 29634