Prof. Ceil Lucas, Emerita at Gallaudet University, USA

Ceil Lucas. Ph.D. was raised in Guatemala City and Rome, Italy. She is Professor of Linguistics, Emerita at Gallaudet University, where she taught 1982 – 2013. She is a sociolinguist with broad interests in the structure and use of sign languages. She has co-authored and edited many articles and books, including 5 editions of The Linguistics of American Sign Language, (with Clayton Valli, Kristin Mulrooney and Miako Villanueva, 1992 – 2010, Gallaudet University Press) and The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL, 2011/2022 paperback, Gallaudet University Press, with Carolyn McCaskill, Robert Bayley, and Joseph HIll. She is an associate producer of Signing Black in America, 2020, produced by the Language and Life Project, North Carolina State University, Walt Wolfram, Executive Producer.


Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, Center for Black Deaf Studies, Gallaudet University, USA

A graduate of the Alabama School for the Deaf,1972.  Gallaudet in 1977, BA; 1979, MA & 2005, PH.D. She is the Founding Director of the newly Center for Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet.  She is also a Professor in the Deaf Studies Department.  Carolyn is the co-author of groundbreaking research and book, The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL. Its history and structure, published in 2011 (with Ceil Lucas, Robert Bayley, and Joseph Hill). She is also an associate producer on the documentary Signing Black in America ( with Joseph Hill and Ceil Lucas; produced by the Language & Life Project, North Carolina State University, 2020 ).


Dr. Joseph Hill, National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID), Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

Dr. Joseph C. Hill is an Associate Professor in the Department of ASL and Interpreting Education and Associate Director of the Center on Culture and Language at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institutes for the Deaf. His research interests are the socio-historical and -linguistic aspects of Black American Sign Language and the American Deaf community’s attitudes and ideologies about existing signing varieties. His contributions include The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (2011) which he co-authored with Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, and Robert Bayley and Language Attitudes in the American Deaf Community (2012). He is also one of the associate producers for the documentary, Signing Black in America, produced by the Language & Life Project at the North Carolina State University. Link:


Prof. Robert Bayley, University of California, Davis

Robert Bayley is a Research Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Davis. His research focuses on language variation and language socialization, especially in bilingual and minority language populations. Professor Bayley is the author of more than 150 publications, including 17 co-authored and co-edited volumes, among them The Oxford Handbook of Sociolinguistics (ed. with Ceil Lucas and Richard Cameron), Sociolinguistic Variation in American Sign Language (with Ceil Lucas and Clayton Valli), and The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (with Carolyn McCaskill et al.). He is the recipient of numerous awards including the Linguistic Society of America’s (LSA) Linguistics, Language, and the Public Award (2022), and the LSA’s Mentoring Award (2023) as well as Fulbright Senior Scholar Awards to Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, and Mexico. He is a former President of the American Dialect Society (ADS) and a Fellow of the ADS and the Linguistic Society of America.


Black ASL: Foundations and Future Directions

Carolyn McCaskill, Ceil Lucas, Ceil Lucas, Joseph Hill

This presentation reviews the history and structure of Black ASL and explores an agenda for future research. The research findings will be summarized and a 27-minute documentary entitled Signing Black in America, produced by the Language and Life Project at North Carolina State University (Dr. Walt Wolfram, Executive Producer) will be screened.

Recent research by the presenters (McCaskill et al., 2011/2020; Lucas et al. 2022) has shown that a distinct variety of American Sign Language, known as Black ASL, developed in the segregated schools for deaf African Americans in the US South during the pre-civil rights era. This research has also shown that in the area of phonology, Black ASL signers are more likely to use the traditional forms of signing over the respective variants that have been subjected to the process of centralization, for example, two-handed vs. one-handed signs, signs produced at the forehead vs.  lowered locations, and large vs. reduced signing space. The circumstances of the schools resulted in the creation of a distinct ASL variety, with the role of language in education policy in both the white and Black Southern schools for the deaf being central. Archival research shows that while white deaf students were long subjected to oral instruction and forbidden to sign in class, Black students, although their severely underfunded schools provided only basic vocational education, continued to receive their education in ASL, with classes often taught by deaf teachers. The differences in language education policy explain the difficulties Black students experienced in understanding their teachers and white classmates after integration occurred, despite great resistance, in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the fact that Black signers from the South, particularly older Black signers, are more likely than their white counterparts to use traditional features which are considered the standard in ASL.

Following the summary of the findings and the screening, the discussion will turn to an agenda for future research, with input from other researchers. Schembri and Palfreyman (forthcoming) state that, “We are yet to explore the relationship between minoritized ethnic groups and sociolinguistic variation…” and the basic question is: what are other situations in the world like the situation of Black ASL, in which a variety has emerged due to geographic and social isolation?  This presentation will suggest areas for future research and issue a challenge to answer this question as broadly as possible.


Lucas, C. R. Bayley, J. C. Hill, & C. McCaskill. (2022). The Segregation and Desegregation of the Southern Schools for the Deaf: The Relationship between Language Policy and Dialect Development. Language 98.4: e173-198.

McCaskill, C., C. Lucas, R. Bayley, and J. Hill (2011/2022). The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Schembri, A., and N. Palfreyman (forthcoming). Sociolinguistic Variation in Sign Languages. In J. Hill, E. Shaw, & R. Bayley (Eds.) Anything is Possible, Tutto è possibile: Sociolinguistic Studies in Honor of Ceil Lucas. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.