Harlan Lane, dis­tin­guished pro­fessor of psy­chology, has coau­thored a new book on Deaf cul­ture asserting that sign-​​language users have many of the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a dis­tinct ethnic group.

The People of the Eye: Deaf Eth­nicity and Ancestry” is an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary explo­ration in Deaf studies, his­tory, cul­tural anthro­pology, genetics, soci­ology and dis­ability. Lane iden­ti­fied a dis­tinct lan­guage, and shared values, cus­toms, social orga­ni­za­tion and sense of iden­tity in the deaf world.

More­over, a majority shares ancestry, said Lane, as do the mem­bers of many ethnic groups.

The book also traces the genealogy of the founding fam­i­lies of the Deaf world in the United States, and chal­lenges the common rep­re­sen­ta­tion of ASL users as a dis­ability group.

Pub­lished this year, the book was coau­thored by Richard Pil­lard, pro­fessor of psy­chi­atry at the Boston Uni­ver­sity School of Med­i­cine, and by Gal­laudet University’s director of Deaf library col­lec­tions and archives, Ulf Hedberg.

Lane, one of the founders of Northeastern’s ASL pro­gram, devel­oped an interest in Deaf cul­ture in the 1970s when, after teaching at the Uni­ver­sity of Paris, he accepted a vis­iting pro­fes­sor­ship at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­fornia, San Diego. There he had a chance encounter with Deaf stu­dents signing to each other, and was amazed to learn that what they were using was a cer­ti­fi­able language.

I became quite excited because I real­ized there was a whole new way to look at the psy­chology of lan­guage. I felt like Balboa dis­cov­ering the Pacific,” he said.

Today, the ASL pro­gram, which includes inter­preter edu­ca­tion, is widely regarded as one of the top inter­preting pro­grams in the world, said long­time pro­gram director Denis Cokely.

The pro­gram recently received $4.5 mil­lion in grants from the U.S. Depart­ment of Edu­ca­tion to improve the quality of ASL-​​English inter­preters, inter­preter edu­ca­tion pro­grams and resources avail­able to Deaf and Deaf-​​blind people.

View selected pub­li­ca­tions of Harlan Lane in IRis, Northeastern’s dig­ital archive.