SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 12

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. applied to this language system of visual symbols has led to conclusions about its structure which add to the sum of linguistic knowledge. Moreover, the analysis of the isolates of this language has led the writer to devise a method of transcription that will expedite the study of any gestural communication system with the depth and complexity characteristic of language. Second, the system of transcription presented here as a tool for analysis may recommend itself to the deaf or hearing user of the language as a way of recording for various purposes this hitherto unwritten language. Those whose work in education or other social service brings them into contact with deaf children or adults may find both the conclusions and the system of writing the language helpful and suggestive. 0.11. Communication by a system of gestures is not an exclusively human activity, so that in a broad sense of the term, sign language is as old as the race itself, and its earliest history is equally obscure. However, we can be reasonably certain that, even in prehistoric times, whenever a human culture had the material resources, the familial patterns, and the attitudes toward life and ‘the normal’ which allowed the child born deaf to survive, there would grow up between the child and those around it a communicative system derived in part from the visible parts of the paralinguistic, but much more from the kinesic, communicative behavior of the culture (Trager, ‘Paralanguage’, SIL 13.1–12, 1958). Based on the patterns of interactive behavior peculiar to that culture, the communication of the deaf-mute and his hearing companions would develop in different ways from the normal communication of the culture. To take a hypothetical example, a shoulder shrug, which for most speakers accompanied a certain vocal utterance, might be a movement so slight as to be outside the awareness of most speakers; but to the deaf person, the shrug is unaccompanied by anything perceptible except a predictable set of circumstances and responses; in short, it has a definite ‘meaning’. That shrug would certainly become more pronounced, even exaggerated, in the behavior of the deaf-mute and perhaps also in that of his hearing partners in communication. This hypothetical discussion of the origin and development of the gesture language of the congenitally deaf individual in any society is not to be taken as a prejudgment of the vexed question of language genesis. Surely total response of the organism precedes the selection of vocal or manual or facial signaling systems, but special signaling systems of the deaf, though a reversion in a way to the antelinguistic patterns of the race, can only develop in a culture, built, operated, and held together by a language, a system of arbitrary vocal symbols. The kinesic, or more broadly, the metalinguistic communicative phenomena out of which the primary communicative patterns of the deaf are built may once have been the prime phenomena, with vocal sounds a very minor part of the complex; but it cannot have been until long after the development of human speech as we know it that human culture had advanced to a point where individuals deprived of the normal channels of communication could be given a chance to develop substitutes. Whenever such a chance of surviving and experimenting was afforded, the supposition is strong that individuals without hearing tended to group themselves, and hence to develop their visual communication systems in ways still more divergent from the communicative norm than would be the case if the deaf individual remained alone among hearing siblings, parents, or friends. To support the supposition there is both biological and linguistic reasoning. Many of the diseases which in modern times cause deafness in the infant before he has acquired speech would have been immediately or soon fatal in earlier times; but some ex-natu deafness is genetic, not only occurring in all periods of history but tending to give the deaf child one or several siblings as well as parents SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 12