sign language

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sign language,

gestural communication used as an alternative or replacement for speech. Sign languages resemble oral languages in every way other than their modality. As with oral languages, sign languages are acquired spontaneously and have highly intricate, rule-governed grammargrammar,
description of the structure of a language, consisting of the sounds (see phonology); the meaningful combinations of these sounds into words or parts of words, called morphemes; and the arrangement of the morphemes into phrases and sentences, called syntax.
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 and phonologyphonology,
study of the sound systems of languages. It is distinguished from phonetics, which is the study of the production, perception, and physical properties of speech sounds; phonology attempts to account for how they are combined, organized, and convey meaning in
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. The three classes of features that make up individual signs are hand configuration, movement, and position to the body. Sign languages include those of Trappist monks, who have a rule of silence, and Plains Indians, where speakers of mutually unintelligible languages communicated freely. Australian aborigines and people of the Sudan and the Sahara also have a complete sign language. Many languages have conventionalized body gestures elaborated to accompany or supplement speech, e.g., the Neapolitan gesture language.

The widely used manual language of the deaf, or language of signs, was first systematized in the 18th cent. by the French abbé Charles Michel de l'Épée. It was brought to the United States by T. H. GallaudetGallaudet, Thomas Hopkins
, 1787–1851, American educator of the deaf, b. Philadelphia, grad. Andover Theological Seminary. In England and France he studied methods of education in schools for the deaf, and in Hartford, Conn.
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. As with any sign language, only a small percentage of signs suggest the form of thought they represent. Such sign languages also may have a syntax and grammar that differs dramatically from the language spoken locally. This is true, for instance, of American Sign Language, which, developed for the deaf, is a non-English system used in the United States and parts of Canada. A number of written systems for representing manual languages have been developed, and dictionaries of signs have been compiled. Often sign language is taught along with speechreading (see lip readinglip reading,
method by which the deaf are able to read the speech of others from the movements of the lips and mouth. It is sometimes referred to as speech reading, which technically also includes the reading of facial expressions and body language.
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) and with a manual alphabet, i.e., a method of forming the letters of the alphabet by fixed positions of the fingers in the air. See also deafnessdeafness,
partial or total lack of hearing. It may be present at birth (congenital) or may be acquired at any age thereafter. A person who cannot detect sound at an amplitude of 20 decibels in a frequency range of from 800 to 1,800 vibrations per second is said to be hard of
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.

Bibliography

See W. C. Stokoe, Semiotics and Human Sign Languages (1972); C. Baker and R. Battison, ed., Sign Language and the Deaf Community (1980); C. A. Padden, Interaction of Morphology and Syntax in American Sign Language (1988).

Sign Language

 

communication by hand or body movements. Sign language is used (1) by deaf-mutes and blind deaf-mutes; one should distinguish communication by sign language that is formed spontaneously among deaf-mute children from the codified sign language (common to all literate deaf-mutes) that is taught to the children; (2) in situations when for some reason it is impossible to achieve an understanding by spoken language, for example, in encounters with those who speak languages that are not closely related (North American Indians, Australian aborigines); (3) in situations when spoken language is prohibited (among Cistercian monks, among women of some Caucasian nationalities).

REFERENCES

Boskis, R. M., and N. G. Morozova. “O razvitii mimicheskoi rechi glukhonemogo rebenka.” In the collection Voprosy uchebnovospitatel’ noi raboty v shkole dlia glukhonemykh, issue 7. Moscow, 1939.
Nikolaeva, T. M., and B. A. Uspenskii. “Iazykoznanie i paralingvistika.” In Lingvisticheskie issledovaniia po obshchei i slavianskoi tipologii. Moscow, 1966.
Stokoe, W. Sign Language Structure. New York, 1960.

A. A. LEONT’EV