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In non-signing communities, home sign is not a full language, but closer to a pidgin. Home sign is amorphous and generally idiosyncratic to a particular family, where a deaf child does not have contact with other deaf children and is not educated in sign. Such systems are not generally passed on from one generation to the next. Where they are passed on, creolization would be expected to occur, resulting in a full language.

However, home sign may also be closer to full language in communities where the hearing population has a gestural mode of language; examples include various Australian Aboriginal sign languages and gestural systems across West Africa, such as Mofu-Gudur in Cameroon. A village sign language is a local indigenous language that typically arises over several generations in a relatively insular community with a high incidence of deafness, and is used both by the deaf and by a significant portion of the hearing community, who have deaf family and friends.

Deaf-community sign languages , on the other hand, arise where deaf people come together to form their own communities. These include school sign, such as Nicaraguan Sign Language , which develop in the student bodies of deaf schools which do not use sign as a language of instruction, as well as community languages such as Bamako Sign Language , which arise where generally uneducated deaf people congregate in urban centers for employment. At first, Deaf-community sign languages are not generally known by the hearing population, in many cases not even by close family members.

However, they may grow, in some cases becoming a language of instruction and receiving official recognition, as in the case of ASL. Both contrast with speech-taboo languages such as the various Aboriginal Australian sign languages , which are developed by the hearing community and only used secondarily by the deaf. It is doubtful whether most of these are languages in their own right, rather than manual codes of spoken languages, though a few such as Yolngu Sign Language are independent of any particular spoken language.

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Hearing people may also develop sign to communicate with speakers of other languages, as in Plains Indian Sign Language ; this was a contact signing system or pidgin that was evidently not used by deaf people in the Plains nations, though it presumably influenced home sign. Contact occurs between sign languages, between sign and spoken languages contact sign , a kind of pidgin , and between sign languages and gestural systems used by the broader community.

One author has speculated that Adamorobe Sign Language , a village sign language of Ghana, may be related to the "gestural trade jargon used in the markets throughout West Africa", in vocabulary and areal features including prosody and phonetics.

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The only comprehensive classification along these lines going beyond a simple listing of languages dates back to In his classification, the author distinguishes between primary and auxiliary sign languages [65] as well as between single languages and names that are thought to refer to more than one language. Sign languages vary in word-order typology.

Influence from the surrounding spoken languages is not improbable. Sign languages tend to be incorporating classifier languages, where a classifier handshape representing the object is incorporated into those transitive verbs which allow such modification. For a similar group of intransitive verbs especially motion verbs , it is the subject which is incorporated. Only in a very few sign languages for instance Japanese Sign Language are agents ever incorporated.

Brentari [69] [70] classifies sign languages as a whole group determined by the medium of communication visual instead of auditory as one group with the features monosyllabic and polymorphemic. That means, that one syllable i. Another aspect of typology that has been studied in sign languages is their systems for cardinal numbers. Children who are exposed to a sign language from birth will acquire it, just as hearing children acquire their native spoken language. The Critical Period hypothesis suggests that language, spoken or signed, is more easily acquired as a child at a young age versus an adult because of the plasticity of the child's brain.

In a study done at the University of McGill, they found that American Sign Language users who acquired the language natively from birth performed better when asked to copy videos of ASL sentences than ASL users who acquired the language later in life. They also found that there are differences in the grammatical morphology of ASL sentences between the two groups, all suggesting that there is a very important critical period in learning signed languages.

The acquisition of non-manual features follows an interesting pattern: When a word that always has a particular non-manual feature associated with it such as a wh- question word is learned, the non-manual aspects are attached to the word but don't have the flexibility associated with adult use. At a certain point, the non-manual features are dropped and the word is produced with no facial expression. After a few months, the non-manuals reappear, this time being used the way adult signers would use them. Sign languages do not have a traditional or formal written form.

Many deaf people do not see a need to write their own language.

Linguistic and Lexical Context

So far, there is no consensus regarding the written form of sign language. Except for SignWriting, none are widely used. Maria Galea writes that SignWriting "is becoming widespread, uncontainable and untraceable. In the same way that works written in and about a well developed writing system such as the Latin script, the time has arrived where SW is so widespread, that it is impossible in the same way to list all works that have been produced using this writing system and that have been written about this writing system.

For a native signer, sign perception influences how the mind makes sense of their visual language experience. For example, a handshape may vary based on the other signs made before or after it, but these variations are arranged in perceptual categories during its development. The mind detects handshape contrasts but groups similar handshapes together in one category.

The mind ignores some of the similarities between different perceptual categories, at the same time preserving the visual information within each perceptual category of handshape variation. When Deaf people constitute a relatively small proportion of the general population, Deaf communities often develop that are distinct from the surrounding hearing community.


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This sign language was developed in the Black Deaf community as a variant during the American era of segregation and racism, where young Black Deaf students were forced to attend separate schools than their white Deaf peers. On occasion, where the prevalence of deaf people is high enough, a deaf sign language has been taken up by an entire local community, forming what is sometimes called a "village sign language" [87] or "shared signing community".

Famous examples include:. In such communities deaf people are generally well integrated in the general community and not socially disadvantaged, so much so that it is difficult to speak of a separate "Deaf" community. Many Australian Aboriginal sign languages arose in a context of extensive speech taboos, such as during mourning and initiation rites. They are or were especially highly developed among the Warlpiri , Warumungu , Dieri , Kaytetye , Arrernte , and Warlmanpa , and are based on their respective spoken languages. It was used by hearing people to communicate among tribes with different spoken languages , as well as by deaf people.

There are especially users today among the Crow , Cheyenne , and Arapaho. Unlike Australian Aboriginal sign languages, it shares the spatial grammar of deaf sign languages. In the s, a Spanish expeditionary, Cabeza de Vaca , observed natives in the western part of modern-day Florida using sign language, [ citation needed ] and in the midth century Coronado mentioned that communication with the Tonkawa using signs was possible without a translator. Signs may also be used by hearing people for manual communication in secret situations, such as hunting, in noisy environments, underwater, through windows or at a distance.

Some sign languages have obtained some form of legal recognition, while others have no status at all.

Concise Lexicon for Sign Linguistics

Sarah Batterbury has argued that sign languages should be recognized and supported not merely as an accommodation for the disabled, but as the communication medium of language communities. The Internet now allows deaf people to talk via a video link , either with a special-purpose videophone designed for use with sign language or with "off-the-shelf" video services designed for use with broadband and an ordinary computer webcam.

The special videophones that are designed for sign language communication may provide better quality than 'off-the-shelf' services and may use data compression methods specifically designed to maximize the intelligibility of sign languages. Some advanced equipment enables a person to remotely control the other person's video camera, in order to zoom in and out or to point the camera better to understand the signing. In order to facilitate communication between deaf and hearing people, sign language interpreters are often used.

Such activities involve considerable effort on the part of the interpreter, since sign languages are distinct natural languages with their own syntax , different from any spoken language. Sign language interpreters who can translate between signed and spoken languages that are not normally paired such as between LSE and English , are also available, albeit less frequently.

With recent developments in artificial intelligence in computer science , some recent deep learning based machine translation algorithms have been developed which automatically translate short videos containing sign language sentences often simple sentence consists of only one clause directly to written language. Interpreters may be physically present with both parties to the conversation but, since the technological advancements in the early s, provision of interpreters in remote locations has become available.

In video remote interpreting VRI , the two clients a sign language user and a hearing person who wish to communicate with each other are in one location, and the interpreter is in another. The interpreter communicates with the sign language user via a video telecommunications link, and with the hearing person by an audio link.


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VRI can be used for situations in which no on-site interpreters are available. However, VRI cannot be used for situations in which all parties are speaking via telephone alone.

With video relay service VRS , the sign language user, the interpreter, and the hearing person are in three separate locations, thus allowing the two clients to talk to each other on the phone through the interpreter. Sign language is sometimes provided for television programmes. The signer usually appears in the bottom corner of the screen, with the programme being broadcast full size or slightly shrunk away from that corner.

Typically for press conferences such as those given by the Mayor of New York City , the signer appears to stage left or right of the public official to allow both the speaker and signer to be in frame at the same time. Paddy Ladd initiated deaf programming on British television in the s and is credited with getting sign language on television and enabling deaf children to be educated in sign.

In traditional analogue broadcasting, many programmes are repeated, often in the early hours of the morning, with the signer present rather than have them appear at the main broadcast time.

Some emerging television technologies allow the viewer to turn the signer on and off in a similar manner to subtitles and closed captioning. Legal requirements covering sign language on television vary from country to country.

Concise Lexicon for Sign Linguistics : Jan Nijen Twilhaar :

In the United Kingdom , the Broadcasting Act addressed the requirements for blind and deaf viewers, [94] but has since been replaced by the Communications Act As with any spoken language, sign languages are also vulnerable to becoming endangered. For example, a sign language used by a small community may be endangered and even abandoned as users shift to a sign language used by a larger community, as has happened with Hawai'i Sign Language , which is almost extinct except for a few elderly signers.

There are a number of communication systems that are similar in some respects to sign languages, while not having all the characteristics of a full sign language, particularly its grammatical structure. Many of these are either precursors to natural sign languages or are derived from them. When Deaf and Hearing people interact, signing systems may be developed that use signs drawn from a natural sign language but used according to the grammar of the spoken language.

Characteristics of language

In particular, when people devise one-for-one sign-for-word correspondences between spoken words or even morphemes and signs that represent them, the system that results is a manual code for a spoken language, rather than a natural sign language. Such systems may be invented in an attempt to help teach Deaf children the spoken language, and generally are not used outside an educational context.

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It has become popular for hearing parents to teach signs from ASL or some other sign language to young hearing children. Since the muscles in babies' hands grow and develop quicker than their mouths, signs can be a beneficial option for better communication. This reduces the confusion between parents when trying to figure out what their child wants. When the child begins to speak, signing is usually abandoned, so the child does not progress to acquiring the grammar of the sign language.

This is in contrast to hearing children who grow up with Deaf parents, who generally acquire the full sign language natively, the same as Deaf children of Deaf parents. Informal, rudimentary sign systems are sometimes developed within a single family. For instance, when hearing parents with no sign language skills have a deaf child, the child may develop a system of signs naturally, unless repressed by the parents. The term for these mini-languages is home sign sometimes "kitchen sign". Home sign arises due to the absence of any other way to communicate.