According to an article in the New York Times, American Sign Language is now the fourth most-studied language among US college and university students. While enrollment in foreign-language courses generally has held steady or increased only modestly, enrollment in ASL courses increased more than sixteen percent between 2006 and 2009.
Instructor Amy Ruth McGraw suggests that students may switch to ASL after struggling to learn other languages. But if the cause of their difficulty “was memorizing vocabulary and grammar,” McGraw points out, “this isn’t going to be any better.”
For information on academic research of American Sign Language since the 1970s, see for example Karen Emmorey and Harlan Lane’s edited volume The Signs of Language Revisited: An Anthology to Honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima (2000). Earlier treatment (and widespread rejection) of what would later be called ASL from the beginning of the last century until the 1960s is discussed in Stewart and Akamatsu’s “The coming of age of American Sign Language,” Anthropology & Education Quarterly 19(3), 235-252 (1988) and Douglas Baynton’s “Forbidden Signs: American Culture and the Campaign Against Sign Language>. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1998)