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Sign Language Studies 6.4 (2006) 454-455

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Dictionnaire de la langue des signes française d'autrefois Introduced by Yves Delaporte. Paris: Éditions du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2005, 394 pp.

This volume contains a reprinted edition of the 1865 dictionary of French Sign Language (LSF) compiled by the Abbé Lambert, and it makes accessible to a general audience a fascinating glimpse into an earlier stage of an existing signed language of a contemporary deaf population. It will, of course, be of special interest to those interested in American Sign Language because of the common heritage shared by ASL and LSF. The volume includes a useful historical overview by Yves Delaporte, a hearing anthropologist who has a history of involvement with the French Deaf community, as well as Lambert's account of the sign formation and syntactic processes at work in the LSF of the time. Modern readers will find many astute observations in Lambert's discussion of these processes in the natural language of the Deaf community, which he takes pains to distinguish from the methodical signing in use in French schools for deaf students prior to the 1880 Milan conference. They will also find statements about the universality and "naturalness" of signing that would not pass muster in modern linguistic circles. This discussion is followed by drawings of the fingerspelling alphabet and what Lambert considers the most common and useful signs. The bulk of the dictionary follows, and it consists of Lambert's verbal descriptions of how a very long list of French terms should be signed. These descriptions range from fairly detailed to what amount to instructions to the user of the dictionary to "wing it," in effect, simply to mime the action or object in whatever way comes to mind. This approach seems to rely on the aforementioned notions of naturalness and universality and may seem naïve given current knowledge about the complexities of signed languages. However, it may also be read as an exhortation to the hearing [End Page 454] reader not to be afraid to enter into dialogue with deaf people, especially in pursuit of educational or spiritual goals. Given that Lambert was a priest, it is not surprising that there is a special message to "men of faith," concerning God's grace in granting this mode of communication to deaf people.

Advances in the sign language development of deaf children Edited by Brenda Schick, Marc Marschark, and Patricia Spencer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006, 395 pp.

This volume is part of the Perspectives on Deafness series released by Oxford University Press. As such, it contains papers on a variety of topics in language acquisition by a number of well-known researchers. This is a very useful addition to the literature on sign language acquisition by deaf children, and it is to the credit of the editors that they discuss gaps in knowledge that remain despite the contributions made in this volume. The list of contributors and the topics covered are impressive, including Dan Slobin on issues of linguistic typology; Virginia Volterra, Jana Iverson, and Marianna Castrataro on the role of gesture; Diane Anderson on lexical development; Nini Hoiting on early vocabulary development; Carol Padden on the acquisition of fingerspelling; Richard Meier on articulatory development; Diane Lillo-Martin and Deborah Chen Pichler on the acquisition of syntax; Judy Reilly on the development of nonmanual morphology; Barbara Shaffer on the acquisition of modal terms; Gary Morgan on the development of narrative skills; and Jenny Singleton and Dianne Morgan on the social context of signed language acquisition. In their preface and introductory chapter, the editors point out areas that are in need of research—especially with respect to the impact of cochlear implants on language development in general and signed language development in particular. Also welcome is the editors' call for more research on the linguistic diversity among developing deaf children, especially with respect to signing that, in the case of American deaf children, is more English-like and less like what has traditionally been classified as ASL-only.



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