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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Language in Hand
Why Sign Came Before Speech

William C. Stokoe

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Read reviews: Library Journal, Hearing Health, CHOICE, Deafness & Education International.


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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 divided 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

William C. Stokoe was Professor Emeritus at Gallaudet University and the founding editor of Sign Language Studies.

ISBN 1-56368-103-X, 6 x 9 hardcover, 232 pages, footnotes, endnotes, sign illustrations, bibliography, index


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