View Full Version : Sign language

07-07-2007, 02:22 AM
I find the linguistic study of American Sign Language, what little I know of it, to be a fascinating example of how "language" input to the brain can arrive at the cortex in different ways, yet behave the same way once it gets there. Three interesting factoids:

Deaf persons who experience an injury in the part of the brain corresponding to language expression (roughly Broca's area) continue to understand sign language but have difficulty using their hands to express it. Those with an injury to the part of the brain that affects language comprehension (roughly Wernicke's area) can sign like mad but have difficulty understanding what others sign to them. This is the exact parallel to similar injuries in hearing persons who use spoken language.

Hearing children born to deaf parents apparently learn on their own to "babble" with their hands, corresponding to the vocalizing done by children with two hearing parents, and at the same point in language development.

Oliver Sacks, famous neurologist and writer, observed an elderly deaf woman dreaming in sign, moving her hands as she slept.I'd be interested in any comments from those more knowledgeable about these things. For example, do any linguists speculate signing actually predates vocal language in human social evolution?

07-07-2007, 02:48 AM
You might find this fascinating (http://www.theinterpretersfriend.com/indj/dcoew/nicaragua.html), CG.

07-07-2007, 03:00 AM
You might find this fascinating (http://www.theinterpretersfriend.com/indj/dcoew/nicaragua.html), CG.
Thanks. I've read some in the past about that particularly interesting example--always glad to find new stuff.

07-07-2007, 03:03 AM
My daughter is studying ASL in hopes of becoming a certified translator - I learn the most interesting things from her. It's a fascinating culture, too.

07-07-2007, 06:59 PM
Last month's Discover had this article (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/village-of-the-deaf/?searchterm=sign%20language) you might like. I'm no linguist, but I'm a sign language interpreter and I enjoyed that article a lot. Dawno, your daughter will find it a very rewarding field! And I :heart: Deaf culture.

07-07-2007, 07:13 PM
Nice link--thanks.

07-07-2007, 10:29 PM
Just a brief anecdote--my daughter's sis-in-law is deaf so all the children in the family start learning sign language from a young age. When one of my grandsons was a few days old, his older brother Tyler was leaning over the bassinet admiring him. The baby waved his hand around and Tyler got all excited, shouting, "He signed love! He signed love!"

"Tell him you love him, too," I said. So Tyler excitedly signed 'I love you' to the baby.

All three of my grandchildren babbled in sign language before they actually spoke understandable words.

07-08-2007, 12:19 AM
Something related -- and I apologize for not having a link:

A recent study with control groups, etc., demonstrated that math students learned better when they were taught to use gestures while working their problems. And not just for the next day's quiz; gestural learning also positively and dramatically affected long term recall.

07-08-2007, 07:06 AM
I'm actually learning (or relearning) ASL right now. I'm working on a film project that will require at least one deaf actress and I figured it would be most beneficial to be able to communicate with her.

A few experiences of my own:

I went to school at RIT, which shares a campus with NTID (Nat. Tech. Inst. for the Deaf). Many times over, I have seen deaf people sign to themselves in exactly the same fashion that hearing people talk to themselves. It simply is their mode of communication, whether with another person or themselves.

I also had the good fortune to attend RIT shortly after the student protest that took place at Gallaudet University in 1988. The students staged a mini-revolt when the board hired a hearing President over two equally qualified Deaf candidates. That, as much as than anything, was responsible for the real resurgence of ASL in modern deaf education. The students proclaimed that someone who didn't sign couldn't really lead them the way they wanted. It is also well known that deaf students that are taught ASL on the same time table as a hearing child would be taught to speak suffer no educational ill effects, while those that aren't often trail their hearing counterparts by as much as 8 years by the time they graduate.

One of the things that I've noticed about ASL vs. spoken speech is how much less physical energy it takes. When I get tired or stressed, it's not the quality of my thought processes that degrades, but the quality of my speech. I used to be able to have highly abstract and complicated conversations in ASL when I was in no condition to speak my own name, let alone anything else. That has really stuck with me and I would be truly fascinated to know what is behind it.

07-08-2007, 07:13 AM
Last month's Discover had this article (http://discovermagazine.com/2007/jul/village-of-the-deaf/?searchterm=sign%20language) you might like. I'm no linguist, but I'm a sign language interpreter and I enjoyed that article a lot. Dawno, your daughter will find it a very rewarding field! And I :heart: Deaf culture. Interesting side note: An identical thing happened in Martha's Vineyard in the U.S. The population had such a small breeding population (for lack of a better term) that hereditary deafness was common there as well, and a well formed local sign language was developed, which even hearing people learned and used. When ASL was developed in the mid-19th Century, the folks of Martha's Vineyard contributed a great deal.