What is BASL: Black American Sign Language

BASL (Black American Sign Language), a dialect of ASL (American Sign Language) is estimated to be used by at least 50% of the Black and Deaf community. The language survived through the years by being passed on generationally within families and communities. The divergence of the two is due largely to segregation in the US, especially the system of segregated schools. 

The Development of BASL 

Of the 11 million Americans who consider themselves deaf or hard of hearing, 8 percent are Black. Today, many Black signers have taken to social media channels such as TikTok and Instagram to share Black ASL and educate people about the differences between Black ASL and ASL. 

Black ASL developed largely due to racial segregation in the 17th to mid 20th centuries. For example the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) did not allow Black deaf individuals to join until 1965. Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet Universtiy) had its first Black Graduate, Andrew J. Foster, in 1954.

Segregation and its Effect on BASL 

From the 1870s to the 1970s, many states maintained segregated schools for Black and White deaf students. Schools for the White and deaf emphasized oralism and academic curriculum. Contrastly, schools for the Black and deaf focused on signing and vocational studies.

Dr. Carolyn McCaskill, the founding director of the Center for Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University and student of the first integrated class (1968) at the Alabama School for the Deaf, told the New York Times, “There were no expectations for Black deaf children to be prepared for college or even continue their education,”.

Notable Characteristics of BASL

Notable characteristics of Black ASL include two hand signs, signs being placed around the forehead area rather than lower on the body, larger signing space, and a greater degree of emoting.

Allyson Waller mentions in her New York Times article that “Over time, Black ASL has also incorporated African-American English terms. For example, the Black ASL sign for “tight” meaning “cool,” which comes from Texas, is not the same as the conceptual sign for “tight,” meaning snug or form-fitting. There are also some signs for everyday words like “bathroom,” “towel” and “chicken” that are completely different in ASL and Black ASL, depending on where a signer lives or grew up.”

Start learning Sign Language for free

Connect with Deaf relatives, friends, or colleagues and learn American Sign Language with the Lingvano App. Sign up for free and join more than 2 Million learners worldwide! Start Learning

Want to start learning Sign Language for free?

Connect with Deaf family relatives, colleagues or friends and learn American Sign Language with the Lingvano App.

Start Learning No thanks
Learn ASL with Lingvano