William C. Stokoe

Pioneering American Sign Language scholar

Known affectionately as the “Father of ASL Linguistics,” Dr. Stokoe* arrived at Gallaudet College in 1955 as an English professor with no formal training in linguistics—a scholar specializing in Chaucer and Middle English literature, to be exact.  Intrigued by the signing he saw outside the classroom, he founded the Linguistics Research Laboratory and presented a ground-breaking scholarly paper, Sign Language Structure (1960), compiled the pioneering Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (1965), and founded the journal Sign Language Studies (1972). By subjecting sign language to linguistic analysis, Stokoe proved that it was not “broken” or “short English,” according to the prevailing view. His research revealed that sign language was a true and complete language—a revolutionary finding, and one that has had profound socio-political repercussions.

* Pronounced sto-kee.

Photo courtesy by John Falls

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