ESWS - European SW Symposium

Thu Aug 4 04:01:23 UTC 2005

hi Geoffrey,

welcome and thank you for taking on the big job of co-ordinating info on sign languages of Asia 
and Europe for SIL!  I love your orgnaization's Ethnologue.  (I'm a linguistics grad student.)

It does seem that you have plenty of work cut out for you, and I agree that trying to learn all 
those different sign languages isn't possible and would be daunting to even think about.  But 
since you asked what we think....

I think that if you have a little time and interest, learning even a little about one signed language 
- whichever one is used where you are, or would be easiest for you to start learning - would be 
both fascinating for you, as a linguist, and valuable for your understanding of all those 
languages.  Of course sign language is not universal, and vocabularies differ a lot.  But a lot of 
the basic way the grammar works is shared - a lot of commonalities seem to flow out of the 
combination of being visually perceived and being articulated in visible 3 dimensional space.  
More types of linguistic iconicity seem to be possible in visual languages than in spoken ones, 
becuase more of what we communicate about has to do with size, shape, location, movement, 
how people handle objects, people's posture and facial expressions (all things open to iconic 
representation in sign) than has to do with sounds. Referents can be "set up" in a location in 
space and from then on you can point to that location as a pronoun for the referent, or indicate 
that the referent is the subject or object for some verbs by having the verb's path of motion 
begin or end at that location.  That seems to be true cross-linguistically in all sign languages.

Also, you learn something about social interaction with Deaf people - in ASL, that in

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