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Gesture, Sign, and the Sources of Language
In the ongoing debate about evolution, scholars frequently argue either the perspective that humans stand as the end product of a deliberate process or that they derive from a series of random acts of natural selection. David F. Armstrong’s new book Original Signs embraces the Darwinian concept of natural selection and extends it to apply to the formation of language. While most current linguistic theory envisions language as a system for translating the contents of the mind into linear strings of arbitrary symbols, Armstrong asserts that this model does not characterize signed languages. He shows that language is inherently a multichannel activity, of which the two primary channels are auditory and visual. Original Signs employs a more expansive notion of language that takes into account the full range of human communicative behavior. By making no strict separation between language and gesture, this thought-provoking work reveals that the use by deaf people of signs to create a fully formed language is also a natural facet of communication development for hearing people. Armstrong explores the influences of Plato and Descartes on modern linguistics, and delineates the theories of earlier anthropological linguists Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, who thought of language as natural experiments connected to individual cultures. This exceptional work of scholarship methodically demonstrates that the intricacies of how languages develop, whether they depend upon words or signs, and that the complexity among languages that contact one another cannot be accounted for by the sequential hierarchical processes previously put forth by linguists and logicians. Original Signs will prove to be a fascinating, watershed work invaluable to linguists, anthropologists, and all other scholars and students engaged in the search for the origin of language.
The Last Students from the Mexican National School for the Deaf
The Escuela Nacional para Sordomudos (ENS), translated as the Mexican National School for the Deaf, opened its doors in the 1860s as part of the new democracy’s intention to educate its deaf people. The ENS taught using Lengua de Señas Mexicana (LSM), Mexico’s native sign language, but the school was closed permanently in 1972 in favor of an oral approach to deaf education. Thus, its former students still alive today provide the last link to this historical institution. In this compelling social history, Claire L. Ramsey presents these unique Deaf Mexicans from their extraordinary experiences as ENS students and signers to their current personal lives. One ENS signer, María de los Ángeles Bedolla, inspired the title of the book, The People Who Spell. In her account, she describes herself and her classmates as cultured and educated compared to the young, orally trained students of today. The ENS signers pride themselves on el deletreo, LSM fingerspelling, which they consider key to their sophistication. Ramsey relates each of the signers’ childhoods, marriages, work experiences, and retirements. However, she brings threads of their stories together to reveal a common and abiding disappointment in modern-day Mexico’s failure to educate its deaf citizens according to the promise made more than 100 years ago. The narratives of the ENS signers detail their remarkable lives and heritage but also legitimately question the future of Mexico’s young deaf people.
Language Use in Deaf Communities
The Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities Series continues its detailed exploration of language dynamics among deaf people in the fourth entry, Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. This volume’s ten meticulously prepared chapters reflect the refinements of research in six major sociolinguistics areas. Rob Hoopes’ work, “A Preliminary Examination of Pinky Extension: Suggestions Regarding Its Occurrence, Constraints, and Function,” commences Part One: Variation with a sound explanation of this American Sign Language (ASL) phonological characteristic. Part Two: Languages in Contact includes findings by Jean Ann on contact between Taiwanese Sign Language and written Taiwanese. Priscilla Shannon Gutierrez considers the relationship of educational policy with language and cognition in deaf children in Part Three: Language in Education, and in Part Four: Discourse Analysis, Melanie Metzger discusses eye gaze and pronominal reference in ASL. Part Five: Second-Language Learning presents the single chapter “An Acculturation Model for ASL Learners,” by Mike Kemp. Sarah E. Burns defines Irish Sign Language as Ireland’s second minority language after Gaelic, in Part Six: Language Attitudes, the final area of concentration in this rigorously researched volume. These studies and the others by the respected scholars featured in Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze make it an outstanding and eminently valuable addition to this series.
A Study of Six Languages
Is it possible to identify sign languages by their prosody, that is, the rhythm and stress of their meaning, then determine if they are related to each other or other sign languages? If so, reasoned authors Donna Jo Napoli, Mark Mai, and Nicholas Gaw, perhaps they could offer such identification as a new way to typologize, or categorize sign languages by their structural features. Their new collaboration Primary Movement in Sign Languages: A Study of Six Languages traces the process and findings from this unique investigation. Resolving on the direction of movement as the prosodic factor to track, they began their research by comparing five sign languages: American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL), Italian Sign Language (LIS), French Sign Language (LSF), and Australian Sign Language (Auslan). They soon discovered that the languages in their study clustered with respect to several characteristics along genetic lines, with BSL and Auslan contrasting with LSF, LIS, and ASL. They learned that sign languages with the same geographic origin evolved differently when relocated, and they isolated differences in each individual sign language. They compared these established sign languages with the newly emerging Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), with the exception of ASL due to their past close contact, thereby validating their work as the first study to identify sign language relationships without depending on grammar.
In interpreting, professionals must be able to convey to their clients the rhythm, stress, and length of phrases used by the communicating parties to indicate their respective emotional states. Such subtleties, which can signal sarcasm and irony or whether a statement is a question or a command, are defined in linguistics as prosody. Brenda Nicodemus’s new volume, the fifth in the Studies in Interpretation series, discusses the prosodic features of spoken and signed languages, and reports the findings of her groundbreaking research on prosodic markers in ASL interpretation. In her study, Nicodemus videotaped five highly skilled interpreters as they interpreted a spoken English lecture into ASL. Fifty Deaf individuals viewed the videotaped interpretations and indicated perceived boundaries in the interpreted discourse. These identified points were then examined for the presence of prosodic markers that might be responsible for the perception of a boundary. Prosodic Markers and Utterance Boundaries reports on the characteristics of the ASL markers, including their frequency, number, duration, and timing. Among other findings, the results show that interpreters produce an average of seven prosodic markers at each boundary point. The markers are produced both sequentially and simultaneously and under conditions of highly precise timing. Further, the results suggest that the type of prosodic markers used by interpreters are both systematic and stylistic.
The Work of William C. Stokoe
In 1955 William C. Stokoe arrived at Gallaudet College (later Gallaudet University) to teach English where he was first exposed to deaf people signing. While most of his colleagues dismissed signing as mere mimicry of speech, Stokoe saw in it elements of a distinctive language all its own. Seeing Language in Sign traces the process that Stokoe followed to prove scientifically and unequivocally that American Sign Language (ASL) met the full criteria of linguistics--phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics and use of language--to be classified a fully developed language. This perceptive account dramatically captures the struggle Stokoe faced in persuading the establishment of the truth of his discovery. Other faculty members ridiculed or reviled him, and many deaf members of the Gallaudet community laughed at his efforts. Seeing Language in Sign rewards the reader with a rich portrayal of an undaunted advocate who, like a latter-day Galileo, pursued his vision doggedly regardless of relentless antagonism. He established the Linguistics Research Laboratory, then founded the journal Sign Language Studies to sustain an unpopular dialogue until the tide changed. His ultimate vindication corresponded with the recognition of the glorious culture and community that revolves around Deaf people and their language, ASL.
Strategies for Extending Student Involvement in the Deaf Community
Institutions of higher learning around the nation have embraced the concept of student civic engagement as part of their curricula, a movement that has spurred administrators in various fields to initiate programs as part of their disciplines. In response, sign language interpreting educators are attempting to devise service-learning programs aimed at Deaf communities. Except for a smattering of journal articles, however, they have had no primary guide for fashioning these programs. Sherry Shaw remedies this in her new book Service Learning in Interpreter Education: Strategies for Extending Student Involvement in the Deaf Community. Shaw begins by outlining how to extend student involvement beyond the field experience of an internship or practicum and suggests how to overcome student resistance to a course that seems atypical. She introduces the educational strategy behind service-learning, explaining it as a tool for re-centering the Deaf community in interpreter education. She then provides the framework for a service-learning course syllabus, including establishing Deaf community partnerships and how to conduct student assessments. Service Learning in Interpreter Education concludes with first-person accounts from students and community members who recount their personal and professional experiences with service learning. With this thorough guide, interpreter education programs can develop stand-alone courses or modules within existing coursework.
A Natural History of Sign Language
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.
Understanding the Historical Roots of American Sign Language
This engrossing study investigates the infancy of American Sign Language (ASL). Authors Ted Supalla and Patricia Clark highlight the major events in ASL history, revealing much of what has not been clearly understood until now. According to tradition, ASL evolved from French Sign Language. The authors analyze the metalinguistic assumptions of these early accounts and also examine in depth a key set of films made by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) between 1910 and 1920. Designed by the NAD to preserve classic ASL, the films feature 15 sign masters, the model signers of that time. In viewing these films, the authors discovered that the sign masters signed differently depending on their age. These variations provide evidence about the word formation process of early ASL, further supported by data collected from dictionaries of the 19th and early 20th centuries. By tracing the writings of selected individuals, this study reconstructs the historical context for early ASL grammar. It describes the language used in each century and how it changed, and focuses on the rediscovery of the literary legacy of the Deaf American voice. Sign Language Archaeology reveals the contrast between folk etymology and scientific etymology and allows readers to see ASL in terms of historical linguistics.
The second international conference on sign language research, hosted by Gallaudet University, yielded critical findings in vital linguistic disciplines -- phonology, morphology, syntax, sociolinguistics, language acquisition and psycholinguistics. Sign Language Research brings together in a fully synthesized volume the work of 24 of the researchers invited to this important gathering. Scholars from Belgium to India, from Finland to Uganda, and from Japan to the United States, exchanged the latest developments in sign language research worldwide. Now, the results of their findings are in this comprehensive volume complete with illustrations and photographs.