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Show of Hands

A Natural History of Sign Language

David F. Armstrong

Publication Year: 2011

Most scholarly speculation on the origin of human language has centered around speech. However, the growing understanding of sign languages on human development has transformed the debate on language evolution. David F. Armstrong’s new book Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language casts a wide net in history and geography to explain how these visible languages have enriched human culture in general and how their study has expanded knowledge of the human condition. Armstrong addresses the major theories of language evolution, including Noam Chomsky’s thesis of an innate human “organ” for language and Steven Pinker’s contention that there is language and not-language without any gradations between gesture and language. This engrossing survey proceeds with William C. Stokoe’s revival of the early anthropological cognitive-linguistic model of gradual development through the iconicity of sign languages. Armstrong ranges far to reveal the nature of sign languages, from the anatomy of early human ancestors to telling passages by Shakespeare, Dickens, and Pound, to the astute observations of Socrates, Lucretius, and Abbé de l’Epée on sign communication among deaf people. Show of Hands illustrates the remarkable development of sign languages in isolated Bedouin communities and among Australian indigenous peoples. It also explores the ubiquitous benefits of “Deaf Gain” and visual communication as they dovetail with the Internet and its mushrooming potential for the future.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

This book is lovingly dedicated to all those friends, deaf and hearing, living and dead, who have made the unique and wonderful world known as Gallaudet and to my family: Vicki, Denise...

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1. Seeing is Believing

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pp. 1-19

A constellation of anatomical and social peculiarities distinguish human beings from other mammals. These anatomical attributes include upright posture with a striding bipedal gait; relative hairlessness...

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2. Signing Heritage

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pp. 20-45

Awareness of the sign languages of the deaf has a long history in the Western world. Plato famously has Socrates refer to the signing of deaf people in the dialogue...

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3. Signing Communities

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pp. 46-63

Sign languages develop when local populations include substantial numbers of deaf people, and these languages may be used extensively by the hearing people in these communities as well as the deaf...

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4. Signing and the Language Faculty

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pp. 64-84

Douglas Baynton (2002) has pointed out that prior to the oralist victory over sign-based deaf education in the late nineteenth century, there was widespread acceptance, within the intellectual community...

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5. Deaf Gain: Visible Language in the Modern World

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pp. 85-101

This chapter considers the modern growth of understanding about the visual bases of language generally. We will also trace the evolution of the dissemination of language in the visual mode, which has grown...


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pp. 103-110


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pp. 111-116

E-ISBN-13: 9781563684876
E-ISBN-10: 156368487X
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563684883
Print-ISBN-10: 1563684888

Page Count: 126
Illustrations: 18 figures, 1 photo
Publication Year: 2011