ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside June 2005

Signing Gets a Scientific Voice

Sign language is as rich and complex as spoken communication, probably because the brain creates and deciphers it in the same way


A group of happy people exits the lobby of the Luxor Hotel and climbs aboard a sightseeing bus, excited to begin a second day touring Las Vegas. The men and women chat and laugh, poking fun at one another about events that happened the night before. But it is remarkably quiet. Only their hands are moving as they look at their partners, their faces and body positions emphasizing their words. The other passengers on the bus sit there awkwardly, surprised to be excluded from the energetic conversations. It is then that they realize how deaf people must feel when they are among those who hear.

Every aspect of verbal communication is possible with sign language: expressing joy, conveying anger, telling tales, trading jokes. The discourse follows the same logical principles as spoken language. Yet it has its own syntax, semantics, rhetoric and irony, which involve far more than just the position of fingers on a hand: hand gestures, facial expressions and body postures all add to the repertoire. Furthermore, just as Spanish differs from Swahili, and American English differs from common English in Britain, American Sign Language (ASL) differs from Danish Sign Language and also from British Sign Language. Sign languages even have their own dialects and accents, analagous to a Bostonian's clip or a Texan's drawl. There is sign poetry, and there are even a few sign choirs.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content


It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on nature.com.
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article



This function is currently unavailable

X