UB Adds Irish And American Sign Language to Curriculum

Release Date: May 7, 1998

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The World Languages Institute at the University at Buffalo has announced that it will offer a two-semester sequence of the Irish language and a two-semester sequence of American Sign Language, beginning in the Fall 1998 semester. Completion of either sequence will fulfill UB's foreign-language requirement.

"When interest is expressed to us about offering a new language, we like to be careful. We tend to start out with only a few course sections to see just how great the demand really is," said Mark Ashwill, Ph.D., director of the institute.

"Both Irish and American Sign Language seem to be very popular. If that continues, they will probably continue to be offered." Ashwill said.

Courses in Swahili and Arabic also are very popular. And a Hindi language course, which was introduced in the 1997-98 academic year, has had a large enrollment in both semesters, he added.

"You can see the changing face of the world in the popularity of certain languages over the years," Ashwill said. "We used to offer Haitian -- also called "Creole," for instance, but then interest seemed to die out and we haven't offered it since 1993. Our Haitian-American students made a case for its re-introduction, however, so we'll offer it again this fall."

Ashwill noted that the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition at the University of Minnesota lists 18 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada offering Irish, including Harvard University, Boston College, SUNY College at Oneonta, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Arizona and the University of Toronto.

Irish is one of the national languages of the Republic of Ireland. It is taught in the public schools, required of all those holding civil-service positions and is the official language of Dáil Eireann -- the Irish Parliament.

Interest in Irish language in particular, and Celtic studies in general, has grown considerably in North America over the past 20 years, and the language is enjoying a robust rebirth of popularity in Ireland itself. The advanced study of Gaelic has increased and new music and

literature are being composed in the nation's original tongue. The number of Gaelic-language television programs and radio stations is growing.

"Today, more than a quarter million people in Ireland are fluent in the Irish language," according to Ashwill. "Nearly one-third of the population over the age of three claim to speak the language."

The first-year, first-semester Irish course is designed to give students a thorough introduction to spoken Irish. In addition, reading, writing and listening skills will be developed.

It will be taught by Margaret McGrath on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7-8:30 p.m. in 104 Clemens Hall on the North Campus.

The two-semester sequence of American Sign Language (ASL) is designed to expose students to deafness and the special needs of the deaf and hearing impaired. Students will learn basic vocabulary items, Ashwill said, and how to use them in one-to-one, small-group and large-group communications.

One section is filled, but a second section that still has openings will be taught from 4-5:20 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in 219 Clemens. The instructor will be Lee Dray, a graduate of Gallaudet College who teaches at St. Mary's School for the Deaf. Since Dray is totally deaf, "This will be a total-immersion course and I'm sure a very interesting experience for the students," Ashwill said.

ASL is the visual/gestural language that is the primary means of communication used by deaf people in America and parts of Canada. It is estimated that between 100,000 and 500,000 people use ASL, making it the fourth most-used language in the U.S., according to Ashwill.

With the introduction of this course, UB joins a growing list of American colleges and universities that have recognized the value and importance of ASL. Among those that formally accept ASL in fulfillment of foreign or second-language requirements are Michigan State University, SUNY-Stony Brook, University of Arizona. University of Minnesota, University of New Mexico, University of Washington and University of Rochester.

The World Languages Institute Web site soon will feature Irish and American Sign Language homepages with links to other online sources. The Web site can be accessed at . For further information, call WLI at 645-2292.

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