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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Through Deaf Eyes: A Photographic History of an American Community

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However, most sign languages, especially the most complex among them, have been developed by Deaf communities. Just as geographical and cultural conditions that isolate populations have led to the creation of distinct spoken languages, so has the physical and social condition of not hearing led to the creation of Deaf communities and sign languages. Hundreds of sign languages are in use around the world today. While each is distinct, all use the shape, orientation, position, and movement of the hands, as well as subtle uses of facial expression and movement of the head and body. Combinations of these elements make possible a variety of linguistic expressions as unlimited as the combinations of sounds used in spoken languages

 
 

Deaf people also cultivate, to varying degrees, the difficult arts of lipreading and speaking (tasks made more or less challenging by, among other factors, the degree of deafness and the age at which deafness occurred). Lipreading is difficult and imprecise in any language, and it is made even trickier by the many sounds and words in English that look identical on the lips. Sole reliance upon oral communication has been more common among some populations than others, such as those people who became deaf as adults. The more common alternative for people deaf from an early age has been to cultivate a means of communication better suited to the visual sense, in other words, some form of gestural language.


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