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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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The Study of Signed Languages: Essays in Honor of William C. Stokoe
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This Volume

This volume contains papers that were presented at the Gallaudet conference honoring Bill Stokoe’s eightieth birthday. It is important to emphasize that the fall 1999 conference and this volume originally were planned as a living tribute, not as a memorial to mark his passing. Indeed, Stokoe was very much present at the conference--sitting with family and friends close to the presenters and drinking in every word and sign. In the months that followed, despite rapidly deteriorating health, Stokoe’s spirits were buoyed in discussions of the issues raised by each of the presenters. Sadly, the time left to him was all too brief and Bill Stokoe died on April 4, 2000, a few months short of his eighty-first birthday.

It was the intention of the conference’s organizers to engage leading scholars in the many scholarly disciplines that his work had influenced, and the wide range of his ideas is represented here. The volume is divided into three major topical sections, bracketed by introductory and closing papers by I. King Jordan and Carol Padden. The sections have to do with the historical context of Stokoe’s work, the issue of language origins, and the diverse populations, deaf and hearing, that have benefited from the work he began. Each section is preceded by a brief introduction, and we leave discussion of the individual papers to authors of those introductions. However, we point out that Stokoe’s impact is at least partly revealed by the range of time during which the scholars represented in this book have known him and been influenced by him. The range is wide indeed, from deaf scholars such as Jordan and Padden who had known and worked with Stokoe for thirty years or more, to Frank Wilson, author of the widely acclaimed book, The Hand, who had known of Stokoe and his work for only a few years before Stokoe’s death. The point, of course, is that the work that Wilson drew on in his book was done during the 1990s, when Stokoe was already in his seventies. It is a measure of his full achievement, that he was still doing fresh and original intellectual work forty years after he began.

One final note—the authors of many of the papers were Stokoe’s close personal friends, as well as his professional colleagues, and many were aware that they were probably seeing him for the last time at the conference in October, 1999 where the papers were first presented. For this reason, some of the papers present scholarly findings with a personal tone. It was the judgment of the editors, in several cases, that it would be appropriate to retain these personal references in final print form. It is in that spirit that we close this section in the way that Bill Stokoe ended each of his e-mails. It is the way that ham radio operators signal “over and out.” Here’s to you, Bill—“73.”

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