Mark Mandel's dissertation on American Sign Language

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Mon Feb 10 01:40:26 UTC 2003

On Fri, 7 Feb 2003, Grant Barrett wrote:

#Well, then, Mark a question I've had for some time but for which I
#cannot find a satisfactory answer: While American Sign Language derives
#from the French Sign Language, it has been suggested to me that the
#French Sign Language borrows from the Native Americans. The claim is
#that French trappers brought it back. The timing seems to be right, and
#the similarities are interesting. But what're the odds?

Very, very, very poor. The origin of FSL is pretty well documented. Any
community of signers -- as opposed to a single deaf person, or perhaps
also a small number -- will begin to develop a sign language. Martha's
Vineyard had a large proportion of deaf and hard of hearing residents in
the 18th and 19th centuries, presumably as a result of reinforced
recessives in a fairly small and (literally) isolated population. MVSL
was probably (or maybe definitely, I don't remember the literature)
part of what went into the formation of ASL when for the first time on
this continent a critical mass of young deaf people was gathered at
Gallaudet's Hartford Asylum for the Deaf (now the American School for
the Deaf iirc).

The same process is now being observed in vivo in Nicaragua ( ).

FSL similarly began, as a language, with the Abbe de l'Epee's*
foundation of a school for the deaf in Paris. There is no need whatever
to postulate input from the interlanguage used by American Plains
Indians.  Comparison would be interesting and legitimate, but this sure
as hell looks like another g*dd*mn ** urban legend to me.

-- Mark A. Mandel

* acute accent on 1st, 3rd, and 4th e/E

** Do I asterisk inconsistently? Very well then, I asterisk
inconsistently. (I am large, I contain multitudes.) ***

*** Linguists unite! You have only your * .

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