Language in Hand: Why Sign Came Before Speech

William C. Stokoe

Published by Gallaudet University Press, 2001
ISBN 10: 156368103X / ISBN 13: 9781563681035
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Synopsis: William C. Stokoe offers here in his final book his formula for the development of language in humans: gesture-to-language-to-speech. He refutes the recently entrenched principles that humans have a special, innate learning faculty for language and that speech equates with language. Integrating current findings in linguistics, semiotics, and anthropology, Stokoe fashions a closely-reasoned argument that suggests how our human ancestors' powers of observation and natural hand movements could have evolved into signed morphemes. Stokoe also proposes how the primarily gestural expression of language with vocal support shifted to primarily vocal language with gestural accompaniment. When describing this transition, however, he never loses sight of the significance of humans in the natural world and the role of environmental stimuli in the development of language. Stokoe illustrates this contention with fascinating observations of small, contemporary ethnic groups such as the Assiniboin Nakotas, a Native American group from Montana. Stokoe concludes Language in Hand with an hypothesis on how the acceptance of sign language as the first language of humans could revolutionize the education of infants, both deaf and hearing, who, like early humans, have the full capacity for language without speech.

From Library Journal: Signed language preceded spoken language in the evolutionary process, according to Stokoe (English and linguistics, Gallaudet Univ.), who passed away in April. His book persuasively demonstrates the worldwide diversity of signed languages and their viability as vehicles of both meaning and syntax. First, Stokoe explains with many examples how gestures can be true sentences (with both noun and verb components). He then supports his proposed order of linguistic development from four approaches: exploring the unique ability of visible signs to resemble what they represent, comparing human anatomy involved in gesture and speech to the anatomy of chimpanzees and other primates, examining signed languages still in use today among both hearing and hearing-impaired communities, and observing linguistic development in children. In this way, Stokoe not only effectively promotes the use of sign language in deaf education but also hopes to broaden the views of all who endeavor to help students achieve literacy. The complexity of signed language is examined in detail in Signed Languages through its selection of 13 papers presented at the 1998 Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research Conference. This volume presents papers not published elsewhere. Moreover, more than half of the chapters discuss signed languages from other parts of the world, such as Sign Language of the Netherlands and the Hausa Sign Language from Nigeria. The editors divide the work into traditional areas of language study, such as morphology, syntax, psycholinguistics, and poetics. Further examination of the role of signed language in linguistic development is available in Sarah Taub's Language in the Body: Iconicity and Metaphor in American Sign Language (Cambridge Univ., 2001). Both volumes are highly recommended for specialized linguistics and deaf studies collections. Marianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Title: Language in Hand: Why Sign Came Before ...
Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
Publication Date: 2001
Book Condition: Good
Edition: 1 Edition.

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