The instruction of American Sign Language historically has employed a foreign language pedagogy; however, research has shown foreign language teaching methods do not address the distinct pedagogical needs of heritage language learners. Framing deaf-parented individuals as heritage language learners capitalizes on the wealth of research on heritage speakers, particularly of Spanish. This study seeks to address three issues. First, it seeks to ascertain whether the assessment instrument developed successfully elicits pedagogically relevant data from deaf-parented individuals that frames them as heritage language learners of ASL. Second, it seeks to draw similarities between the experiences of deaf-parented individuals in the United States and heritage speakers of spoken languages such as Spanish. Third, after considering the first two, it addresses the question of whether deaf-parented individuals may therefore benefit from the pedagogical theory of heritage language learners. Using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, an assessment instrument was distributed to individuals over 18 years of age, who were raised by at least one deaf parent and had used and or understood signed language to any degree of fluency. This study seeks to test the soundness of the instrument’s design for use with the deaf-parented population. A review of participant responses and the literature highlights similarities in the experiences of heritage speakers and deaf-parented individuals, gesturing toward the strong possibility that deaf-parented individuals should be considered heritage language learners where ASL is concerned. The pedagogy used with deaf-parented individuals therefore should adapt the theories and practices used with heritage speakers.

Exit Requirement


Date of Award

Spring 3-10-2016

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies

Committee Chair

Amanda R. Smith

Committee Member

Kara Gournaris

Committee Member

Maribel Gárate


American Sign Language, Heritage Sign Language Learner, Deaf-Parented Interpreter, Ethnolinguistic Identity, Social and Linguistic Security, Assessment



Type (DCMI Terms)


Subject Categories

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Educational Methods | First and Second Language Acquisition

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Additional Files

PDF_A Heritage Signers_ Language Profile Questionnaire.pdf (2280 kB)
PDF/A Version



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