Gallaudet University Press

1:4 Wednesday, December 15, 1999

Announcing the Return of Sign Language Studies

SLS Cover Gallaudet University Press is pleased to announce its acquisition of Sign Language Studies, the preeminent journal in its field. Founded by the distinguished scholar William C. Stokoe in 1972, SLS' new editor will be David Armstrong, a collaborator of Dr. Stokoe's and the author of the recent Press publication Original Signs. After a three-year hiatus, the first new issue of SLS will be published in Fall 2000. Read more about the history of SLS, or subscribe now at a special discounted rate for our newsletter readers.

"If children grew up isolated on a desert island, would they develop a bona fide language?"

–Lawrence Osborne, "A Lingusitic Big Bang"

In Nicaragua, Some Researchers Say Yes; Some Say No

With no contact from the outside world, a small group of deaf children in Central America have created their own sign language, complete with grammar, dialect, and an expanding 1,600 word vocabulary. Or so the story goes.

An article in the October 24th New York Times Magazine ("A Linguistic Big Bang") has researchers buzzing over the ethics and authenticity of "Nicaraguan Sign Language," or "ISN" (Idioma de Signos Nicaraguense), apparently developed from scratch by several dozen deaf children. As reporter Lawrence Osborne tells it, the story is simple: The first Nicaraguan schools for the deaf failed because they emphasized "finger spelling," a concept foreign to children who had no experience with "words." With their teachers disconnected and ineffective, children began sharing the "home signs" Click to continue

Critics are praising the seamless weaving of scholarship and narrative in Crying Hands, Hosrt Biesold's wrenching study of eugenics and deaf people in Nazi Germany. The October issue of ForeWord magazine paces the book's admirers: "In Crying Hands author Horst Biesold describes the heartache of these deaf victims. He interviewed through sign language 1,215 people. Their hands tell a painful story of mutilation and life-time suffering."

Dr. Anita Grossman of Columbia University is even more generous in her assessment: "Horst Biesold's Crying Hands is part of an important trend in German historiography of the Nazi period: practitioners in so-called ‘helping professions' such as medicine, psychiatry or social work, who turn to historical research to express outrage at their professions' practices during the Third Reich, expose the collaborating and sometimes murderous history of teachers and colleagues, and not least, to help seek redress for forgotten victims of Nazi crimes." Dr. Grossman further applauds the human element of Biesold's work: "Particularly welcome is the author's inclusion of many stories in the victims' own voices, giving poignant agency to people who in many cases are still suffering physically and/or psychically from the force abortions or sterilizations performed under the Nazis."

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August 1999
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