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A Natural History of Sign Language
David F. Armstrong
From Reference & Research Book News
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the late William C. Stokoe’s groundbreaking work, Sign Language Structure, Armstrong (anthropology, Gallaudet U., Washington, DC) explores what we can learn about the human capacity for language and communication by analyzing examples of human signing within a broad range of social contexts and geographic locations. The diverse terrain covered includes language theory work of Noam Chomsky, Steven Pinker, and Stokoe; discussion of the anatomy of early human ancestors; evidence found in excerpts from the writings of Shakespeare, Dickens, and Pound; observations from Socrates, Lucretius, and Abbé de l’Epée on signing among deaf people; and the development of sign languages in isolated Bedouin communities and indigenous peoples of North America and Australia. Finally, Armstrong considers the concept of “deaf gain” — what the experiences of signing deaf communities over many centuries has contributed to knowledge about the human condition in general, and how humans might communicate optimally in a primarily visual medium.
David F. Armstrong is an anthropologist and former Executive Director and Budget Director at Gallaudet University.