Cover image for Language in hand : why sign came before speech
Language in hand : why sign came before speech
Stokoe, William C.
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Publication Information:
Washington, D.C. : Gallaudet University Press, 2001.
Physical Description:
xv, 227 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
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HV2474 .S69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
HV2474 .S69 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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William C. Stokoe offers here in his final book his formula for the development of language in humans: gesture-to-language-to-speech. He refutes the recently entrenched principles that humans have a special, innate learning faculty for language and that speech equates with language. Integrating current findings in linguistics, semiotics, and anthropology, Stokoe fashions a closely-reasoned argument that suggests how our human ancestors' powers of observation and natural hand movements could have evolved into signed morphemes. Stokoe also proposes how the primarily gestural expression of language with vocal support shifted to primarily vocal language with gestural accompaniment. When describing this transition, however, he never loses sight of the significance of humans in the natural world and the role of environmental stimuli in the development of language. Stokoe illustrates this contention with fascinating observations of small, contemporary ethnic groups such as the Assiniboin Nakotas, a Native American,group from Montana. Stokoe concludes Language in Hand with an hypothesis on how the acceptance of sign language as the first language of humans could revolutionize the education of infants, both deaf and hearing, who, like early humans, have the full capacity for language without speech.

Author Notes

William C. Stokoe was Professor Emeritus at Gallaudet University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Signed language preceded spoken language in the evolutionary process, according to Stokoe (English and linguistics, Gallaudet Univ.), who passed away in April. His book persuasively demonstrates the worldwide diversity of signed languages and their viability as vehicles of both meaning and syntax. First, Stokoe explains with many examples how gestures can be true sentences (with both noun and verb components). He then supports his proposed order of linguistic development from four approaches: exploring the unique ability of visible signs to resemble what they represent, comparing human anatomy involved in gesture and speech to the anatomy of chimpanzees and other primates, examining signed languages still in use today among both hearing and hearing-impaired communities, and observing linguistic development in children. In this way, Stokoe not only effectively promotes the use of sign language in deaf education but also hopes to broaden the views of all who endeavor to help students achieve literacy. The complexity of signed language is examined in detail in Signed Languages through its selection of 13 papers presented at the 1998 Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research Conference. This volume presents papers not published elsewhere. Moreover, more than half of the chapters discuss signed languages from other parts of the world, such as Sign Language of the Netherlands and the Hausa Sign Language from Nigeria. The editors divide the work into traditional areas of language study, such as morphology, syntax, psycholinguistics, and poetics. Further examination of the role of signed language in linguistic development is available in Sarah Taub's Language in the Body: Iconicity and Metaphor in American Sign Language (Cambridge Univ., 2001). Both volumes are highly recommended for specialized linguistics and deaf studies collections. Marianne Orme, West Lafayette, IN (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

In 1960, William Stokoe, then a young faculty member in the English department at Gallaudet College, published a short monograph entitled Sign Language Structure, in which he suggested that the signing used by deaf people in the US to communicate with one another was a language in its own right. This idea, initially greeted with derision, is now universally accepted among linguists. It constituted the start of a major paradigm shift in how sign languages were viewed, understood, and analyzed, and today there is an extensive linguistic research base dealing with American Sign Language. Last year, Stokoe died after a career that revolutionized the world of the deaf--but his Language in Hand, published posthumously, has the makings of yet another revolutionary contribution to our understanding of language and the world. As the subtitle suggests, Stokoe argues that sign came before speech, and that the evolutionary process that gave rise to human language began with gestures and signs, developed into signed language, and only then emerged in an oral/aural form. Stokoe's arguments are powerful and compelling, and deserve the widespread attention and respect they will certainly receive. Recommended for general readers and upper-division undergraduate students and above. T. Reagan University of Connecticut

Table of Contents

Prefacep. vii
1. An Idea That Would Not Go Awayp. 1
2. Chasing the Language Butterflyp. 17
3. Gesture to Language to Speechp. 31
4. Signed Languages and Language Essentialsp. 52
5. Language Signsp. 67
6. Descartes Thought Wrongp. 78
7. Language Metamorphosisp. 103
8. Language in a Chrysalisp. 119
9. Emerging from the Cocoonp. 131
10. Families of Signed Languagesp. 147
11. Languages in Parallelp. 162
12. Visible Verbs Become Spokenp. 176
13. A Difference That Makes a Differencep. 193
Notesp. 203
Bibliographyp. 215
Indexp. 223