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Lisa Koch

on 8 May 2014

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Handshape (
)- how fingers are bent or extended in a particular sign.

Location (
)- where on the body or in space is the sign being made?

Movement (
)- how does the hand or hands move?
"The linguistic movement that Stokoe founded is widely credited with providing critical support for movements around the world in which deaf people have won educational and civil rights." (Armstrong)
From Gestures to Sign Language
Democritus, a Greek Philosopher, said, "Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity."
Sign Language came about due to the necessity of communicating without sound.
According to Michael Corballis, Psychology professor at Auckland University, "Gestural communication was much more effective than vocal communication among pre-human ancestors for two reasons:"
Reason 1
Reason 2
Gestures allow communication about shape and location.
Visual-Gestural Language
What is spoken language except abstract sounds connected to objects, thoughts or feelings?
Signs are usually connected to what they mean. The sign for plane looks like a plane. The sign for tired looks like a tired person.
Whereas, an airplane can also be called a Flugzeug in German or a Tayyare in Turkish.
Spoken Languages have:
Sign Languages have:
Corballis, Michael. (1999). The Gestural Origins of Language, American Scientist, 87, 138,

doi: 10.1511/1999.2.138
Nomeland, M.M., & Nomeland, R.E. (2012). The Deaf Community in America. Jefferson, North Carolina:

McFarland & Company Inc., Pubishers
ASL Recognized as a Language
Attitudes begin to change during the 1970's.
MJ Bienvenu: "I remember the day when I finally realized ASL is indeed a language - the day my life changed."
Dr. William Stokoe is recognized as the father of ASL Linguistics.
What Exactly is ASL?
Baker & Cokely: "a language embodies the thoughts and feelings of its users."
2 Books (The Green Books):
Grammar and Culture
Curriculum and Evaluation
2 Elements:
Ursula Bellugi & Edward Klima
After working with Washoe
Researched ASL's morphological process
Convinced ASL has its own grammatical properties
The Signs of Language

The Stalk Institute
Primarily relies on sight
Language structured to the needs of eyes
hand shape
body posture
serves as the intonation of the language
ASL is not English!
ASL is / does:
Not Oral
Not Universal
Not Written
Not all Iconic
Not Have the Same Grammar as English
Language and Sign language
Learning in Old Schools
Earlier Books on Sign Language
Possible Historical Sources of Modern ASL
Birth of ASL Research
Linguistics related to sign language was unheard of until Dr. William Stokoe, chair of the English department at Gallaudet University, decided to analyze the language of Deaf people
Before Dr. William Stokoe's research, people did not know that ASL contains its own grammar, structure and vocabulary.
These books contained static pictures of signs to accompany words and were early sign language dictionaries.
Later research on ASL characteristics such as phonology, morphology, and syntax was originally met with much resistance, including from Deaf people.
ASL and Linguistics
During the 1960s the study of linguistics was more common in American colleges and universities. It originated in Europe as part of a movement to compare languages of the world.
Languages described according to design and sound structures, the organization of morphemes and vocabulary, and sentence structures.
Dr. William Stokoe
Fascinated by sign language used by his students
He had no previous experience with sign language.
Convinced that sign language contained highly developed linguistics.
Established the Linguistics Research Laboratory in 1957
Reactions to the Research
The Gallaudet and Deaf communities were not supportive of Stokoe's research initially.
In a letter from a granddaughter of Alexader Graham Bell, she said, "...there is no need for the deaf to have a sign language or to be isolated in a gesturing silent world of their own" (Baynton, 2007).

Baynton, D. C. (2007). Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community.

Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.

Early Findings
Stokoe's researched showed that sign language was a complete and complex language distinct from English.
In his book,
A Dictionary of American Sign Language
, signs were listed by their translations in English and their internal structure.
ASL Characteristics
Phonology, Morphology and Syntax
There are five parameters of sign.
Armstrong, David F. (2000) William C. Stokoe, Jr Founder of Sign Language Linguistics. Washington, DC:

Gallaudet University Press.

ASL's Recognition as a
This language developed over time from basic gestures used when hunting to a full-fledged language with its own grammar and structure. As society came to recognize this, those in the deaf community found that their rights were increased and they were given many more equal opportunities.
1. Hand shape
2. Location
3. Movement
4. Palm orientation
5. Facial expressions
The study of word formation
Morphemes =
noun-verb pairs
inflectional processes
Morpheme Example 1
noun-verb pair
FLY and PLANE have the same parameters.
(They look similar when signing)
But, FLY is a verb and PLANE is a NOUN, although they have the same sign.
Morpheme Example 2
The SLEEP and EAT signs eventually combined to create the HOME sign.
Facial and body behavior determines sentence types in ASL.
QUESTIONS: Brows squint or raise, forward tilting of head

COMMANDS: Forward tilt of head, frown, strong signs

DECLARATIVES: Brows relax, nodding
Fingers and hands play roles in expressing details. They:
Represent three-dimensional shapes.
Demonstrate changes in size.
Describe height, width, interior or exterior space.
Describe people and objects in action.
(Nomeland, 2012)
Laurent Clerc and Thomas Gallaudet came from France to teach Americans how to sign.
But some Americans signed before Clerc and Gallaudet came to America.
A lot of people living on Martha's Vineyard were deaf because of a genetic mutation. They had their own sign language. This was established before Clerc and Gallaudet came to America.
MVSL stands for "Martha's Vineyard Sign Language.
MVSL played an important role in the development of ASL
Some signs were similar to ASL, but the expressions have evolved over the years. (Frishberg, 1975)
In ASL, one-handed signs below the neck tend to become two-handed
Ex: In ASL, the sign for MAD used to be one-handed and became two-handed.
In MVSL, the sign for MAD was one-handed.
In ASL, two-handed signs in contact with the face tend to become one-handed
Ex: In ASL, the old sign for COW and DEVIL used to be two-handed and are now one-handed.
In MVSL, DEVIL and COW were two-handed.
Sign Production tends to become more fluid by dropping parts of a sign
Ex: In ASL, the old sign for BIRD was BEAK+WINGS; now it is signed BEAK.
In MVSL, ASL's old form BEAK+WINGS was maintained.
60% of the signs used in America during the early 1800's originated with French signs brought to Conn. by Clerc
After the Civil War, laws were passed, making English the majority language.
They wanted English to be the only language used in schools.
There were large numbers of immigrants coming to America and a lot of freed slaves that needed education.
ASL was considered a foreign language.
Deaf students would go to school not knowing that they had names.
They weren't taught sign language, they were taught to speak and pronounce words correctly.
They weren't allowed to use sign.
Woodard, James. (1978). Historical Bases of American Sign Language. Rochester, NY: Academic Press
Frishberg, Nancy, (1975). Arbitrariness and Iconicity: HIstorical Changes in American Sign Language.
Baker & Carol Padden. (1978). American Sign Language, a look at it's History, Structure and

the Community. Silver Springs, MD: T.J. Publishers
Despite the fact that Dr. Stokoe theorized that : "human language began as visible gesture," (Armstrong), signing was widely viewed as a lower form than that of the spoken language until quite recently. Thanks to Stokoe and several other linguists' work ASL is now regarded as a respectable language.
Position of Hand
Orientation of Hand
Martha's Vineyard
Sign Language Engraved in Deaf History
Signs were used in America long before the 1817 establishment of the American Asylum of the Deaf and Dumb in Hartford, Conn.
There is a uniqueness in both spoken and signed languages. According to Melvia Nomeland, author of "The Deaf Community in America,"
Spoken and Signed Languages
Where the tongue is
Where the lips are
If the voice is on or off
Koko the gorilla knows over 1000 words in ASL. That is more than all of this class combined knows.
Many mistake ASL as broken English, but it is its own language with its own components that separate it from other languages. In this presentation we will further discuss how ASL has developed and is now recognized as its own language.

Later on, Dr. William Stokoe started research on sign language and published his findings.

This research contributed to ASL being recognized as a formal language used by deaf Americans and taught formally in classrooms.
ASL is a Language
Sign language has existed for a long time. Over this time it has developed into what we know as American Sign Language. At first sign language was a visual gestural language created by deaf people. Early schools where deaf children attended did not teach sign language formally in the classrooms.
Historical Changes in ASL and MVSL
Baker and Padden suggest that some signs that used to require one hand now require two hands, while others are now produced with one hand.
(Baker and Padden, 1978)
Sign language is communication using one's body instead of a voice. Sign Language can also express things that even the voice can have trouble with, such as:
According to the theory of evolution, as primates began to evolve they no longer needed to live in trees. This freed up their hands, allowing them to better communicate with each other with hand gestures (Corballis 1999).
Gestures are silent to avoid alerting prey
or predators to one's location.
The study of phonemes, the smallest units of language
The way words are put together to create sentences
The study of the structure of ASL allowed it to be considered a "natural human language."
(Van der Hulst and Mills, 1996)
Van der Hulst, Harry, Mills, Anne (1996). Issues in sign linguistic: Phonetics,

phonology and morpho-syntax. Lingua. 98 (1-3), 3-17.
That is how signing came about, through describing things without use of the voice.
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