holding a baby in our hands

October 18, 2010 § Leave a comment

Imagine a close-knit community isolated geographically from others with a high proportion of Deaf members.  In such a setting a sign language is likely to emerge and be known by both the Deaf and a great number of Hearing. In the Al-Sayyid community of Bedouins in Southern Israel, around 100 of the 3,500 strong community are Deaf. In the past 75 years heriditary Deafness seems to have ermerged here and with it a signed language.

Researchers often propose that signed languages are our best understanding of how languages might be born.  The emergence of Nicaraguan Sign Language in the 1970s was a major event. Until that decade the deaf (deliberate small d here) were isolated from each other, living among  their hearing relatives. However, the creation of a school in the capital of the 1970s  (and reconfigured by the Sandanista govt in 1980s) saw the development of a language used between Deaf individuals  (big D now as a community emerged) by Deaf.   Let us be clear, it was not the intention of the school to create a manual system for communication. The school focused on the lip reading of Spanish, but it was in the school yard and behind the teachers’ back that Idioma de Senas Nicaragua emerged.  Not only a native language to give the Deaf of Nicaragua a way of communicating with each other, a BY_PRODUCT of the process was that linguists got to be at or nearly at the birth of a language.  Research on the Bedouin community is just as intriguing,

What they do reveal is support for innatist positions on human language. That is, that much of the grammar  of these languages reflect patterns from languages that have a much longer developmental history and that essential the structural components of signed languages fall into the range of phenomena found in spoken languages, showing us that signed communication is a natural channel or medium for human languages to exploit.

Read more here from the New York Times
or watch the youtube below about Nicaragua’s signed language

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