SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 11

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. Sign Language Structure: An Outline of the Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf 1 William C. Stokoe, Jr. Gallaudet University Preface The present paper, available both from Studies in Linguistics and from Gallaudet College, offers to linguistics the first substantial part of an answer to an old question: what of sophisticated visual symbol systems examined by the rigorous methodology of structural linguistics? It likewise offers to all those interested in the deaf and their problems solid evidence that the sign language of the American deaf, unlike such secondary systems as writing or speechreading, has a language- like nature and function. Whether it is a language in the full meaning of the term is a question the linguist ought not to judge until much more evidence of the kind presented here is made available; but the majority of the deaf themselves and many who work with them know that the question was long ago settled pragmatically. The writer is indebted to the Gallaudet College Research Committee, especially to its former sociologist member, Dr. Anders S. Lunde, and to its chairman, Dean George E. Detmold, who first suggested the study and by his efforts secured institutional support for it. A welcome grant from the American Council of Learned Societies made possible a summer of study with Professor Henry Lee Smith, Jr., as well as acquaintance with Professor George L. Trager, out of which grew the conviction that their methods of linguistic analysis are sufficiently mathematical to apply to a symbol system in a different sensory medium. The Eastman Kodak Company and Georgetown University Hospital very generously permitted us to borrow photographic equipment for the recording of data. The writer is grateful, too, for the time and intelligent cooperation given by the several informants who sat, or rather signed, for the movie camera. William C. Stokoe, Jr. Gallaudet College Washington, D.C. April 1, 1960 0. Introduction 0. The primary purpose of this paper is to bring within the purview of linguistics a virtually unknown language, the sign language of the American deaf. Rigorous linguistic methodology 1 Originally published as Studies in Linguistics, Occasional Papers 8 (1960), by the Department of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo, Buffalo, New York. Reprinted by permission of the Departments of Linguistics and Anthropology, University of Buffalo. (Reprinted in 2005 in the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 10, 3-37.) SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 11