#WhyISign has exploded on many of our Twitter (or insert-preferred-social-media-site-here) feeds these past few days. The hashtag began with Stacy Abrams, a Deaf woman, who explained that her family, who are hearing, learned sign (ASL) because as her mother said “you must communicate to have a relationship.”

Others like Jonathan McMillan and Adam Jarashow urge people to share their stories. Jonathan McMillan is at #EHDI2016 – the 15th Annual Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Meeting. He wants Deaf people to share their narratives with others using #EHDI2016 on social media. Adam Jarashow says “the Deaf community is on the rise and we need to ride that wave”, citing recent successes like Nyle DiMarco and the ASL app. He also observes that the use of sign language is universal (not that signed languages themselves are – but the use of them is – that is, wherever you find a community of Deaf people, you’ll find a signed language there too). Both of them say we need to educate others about the importance of signed language and the need for early exposure and daily access.

Research echoes this.

(LP = Laura-Ann Petitto from VL2 and BL2 at Gallaudet University )

“Bilingualism and the Brain”

VL2 Research Brief on “Advantages of Early Visual Language”

ScienceNews piece on “Early exposure to signing helps deaf kids on mental task” 

“Language and Public Policy: Ensuring Language Acquisition for Deaf Children: What Linguists Can Do” 

“Deaf Children’s Science Content Learning in Direct Instruction versus Interpreted Instruction”

The classic “Unlocking the Curriculum” 

As well as echoed in a couple of opinion pieces like linguist Dan Slobin’s letter and pediatrician Julia L. Hecht’s blog post

People have responded to Stacy Abrams’s call en masse with selfies of themselves and their loved ones sporting a tee with #WhyISign on the front. They have posted #WhyISign videos and messages on social media. All partaking in the need to celebrate and share the love for using signed language. A few are listed here.




The Deafhood Foundation

#WhyISign from The Deafhood Foundation on Vimeo.

Parker-Lindeberg Family

Shoshannah Stern


Rosa Lee Timm

Dawn Sign Press

Jon Lenois Savage

Crom Saunders



Faculty member Julie A. Hochgesang



Levi Ridloff

Levi: Why do I sign ? Because signing is beautiful like flower. #whyisign

A video posted by Sol & Che brahs (@sol_che) on Mar 15, 2016 at 5:36pm PDT

Joseph Hill (alum of Gallaudet Linguistics Department)


Jules Dameron


Melissa Malzkuhn


Megan Malzkuhn


Kristin Womack


Adam C Schembri says “#becauseICan”


Diane Lillo-Martin


In a recent blog released by Convo, California Senator Cathleen Galgiani, accompanied by Nyle DiMarco, describes a bill she has authored to “put an end to language deprivation for deaf and hard of hearing children ages 0 to 5 years old.”


Braam Jordaan created a video called “ASL Rose: Two Deaf Babies” in 2012 that is particularly relevant.


All faculty members of the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet are fluent and daily users of American Sign Language. Faculty member Deborah Chen Pichler says: “To double the number of interesting people I can interact with!” Faculty member Kristin Mulrooney says “I sign to communicate with others who sign.” Basically, the Department of Linguistics at Gallaudet – #WhyISign – because it’s our lives, it’s our work, it’s our way of being.

NOTE: Each Deaf community has their own signed language. To date, there are roughly 200 hundred documented signed languages. Their histories are often (if not always) different from the ambient spoken language. For example, American English comes from Great Britain and has developed into its own variety after hundreds of years in America with its own unique influences (that make it different from British English). American Sign Language (ASL) historically comes from a mixture of home signs already extant in America and French Sign Language (LSF).

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