Black American Sign Language (BASL) or Black Sign Variation (BSV) is used by Deaf Black Americans in the U.S. The variation from American Sign Language (ASL) was highly influenced by the segregation of schools in the South. Since the schools at the time were separated based upon race, it created two language communities among Deaf signers. There were the white Deaf signers at white schools and the Black Deaf signers at Black schools and the way that the two communities were taught sign language was quite different.
Black American Sign Language differs from varieties of ASL in its phonology, syntax, and lexicon. BASL tends to have a larger signing space, which means some signs are produced further away from the body than in other dialects. Deaf signers of BASL also tend to prefer to use two-handed variants of signs, while signers of ASL tended to prefer one-handed variants. Black ASL also contains unique signs for everyday terms, in addition to alternate hand placements — such as at the forehead versus under the chin.
The first school for the Deaf in the U.S was founded in 1817 but did not admit African American students until 1952. Platt Skinner saw the need for schools for Black Deaf students and founded the Skinner School for the Colored, Deaf, and Blind in 1856 in Niagara Falls, New York. Even after states outlawed segregation by 1900, integration was scarce as some institutions allowed Black students and others did not.
However, since schools in the South remained segregated, many Southern states began to create separate schools or departments for the Black Deaf population. The first school established for Black Deaf students opened in the District of Columbia in 1857 but remained segregated until 1958. As schools began to integrate, students and teachers noticed differences in the way Black students and White students signed. Black Deaf students and their teachers were having trouble understanding each another.
As deaf education and sign language research continued to broaden, so did the perception of ASL. With the publication of the Dictionary of American Sign Language, ASL began to be recognized as a legitimate language.
Today, the effects from the past still stain Black ASL. It is both formally dissimilar from ASL and shrouded in the same judgments common to African-American Vernacular English when it is compared to standard English. There are some Black signers who prefer not to use BASL when around their white counterparts.