SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 17

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. Language invented by Sir Richard Paget except that a word translated by his method begins with determinants, such as a sign for ‘concrete’ or ‘abstract’, and a subject-category sign, and progresses to the particular or base sign. (The new sign language: notes for teachers. London, Phonetics Dept., University College, n.d.) Both the eighteenth century and the modern systems are really methods of teaching, not languages capable of colloquial use. Sicard also published a brief study of the method he followed in the Théorie volumes (Signes des mots, considérés sous le rapport de la syntaxe; á l’usage des sourds-muets; Paris, 1808); but this too concerns the use of ‘methodical’ signs for teaching French vocabulary. A different approach is apparent in the work of Bébian. His Mimographie, ou essai d’écriture mimique propre à régulariser le langage des sourds-muets (1825) is a most ingenious attempt to devise a system of writing for the natural sign language. He was a teacher at the Paris school. His method of writing the signs is analytical, but his avowed purpose is to compose a vocabulary or dictionary of signs to serve as a regulator of the language much as the Academy and Dictionary performed that function for French. Considering the stage that linguistic analysis had reached in his time, his work is excellent in conception and execution. His symbols for rendering the hands and other parts of the body involved in the sign are representational enough to be easily remembered and read, and at the same time sufficiently conventionalized to be rapid and economical. He also used a few ‘diacritical’ marks to denote facial expressions: ‘questioning’, ‘surprise’, ‘reverence’, and so on. Movement seems the least well-handled part of his system; but there is a possibility that his writing system, as judged by one familiar with present sign language, falls short of succinct and accurate description of the language because the natural sign language itself in his time lacked uniformity in some ways. For example, the present American signs for ‘chair’ and ‘name’ are regular in every way. Both use the index and second fingers of both hands and both cross these fingers of one hand over the same fingers of the other hand at or near the second joint. The sole distinction is the orientation: edgewise (index finger uppermost) for ‘name’; flat (palmar surface down) for chair. But in Bébian’s time, though ‘name’ was signed just as now, the sign for ‘chaise’ was pantomimic, the signer making a more or less abbreviated attempt to sit in an imaginary chair. (The authority for ‘chaise’ is the picture-dictionary of Pelissier discussed below.) In Études sur la lexicologie et la grammaire du langage natural des signes (Paris, 1854), Y.-L. Remi Valade rejects Bébian’s system as too cumbersome and its symbols as too numerous. He retains, however, the purpose: a dictionary to regularize signs, to make for more uniformity, both in the language and in the education of the deaf. He understands very well why a dictionary of signs cannot be expected to resemble, or fulfill the same function as, a standardized French dictionary. What he projects in short is a French-Sign Language dictionary. Following each entry of a French word with etymological and grammatical notation would be a description of the natural sign which that word most nearly translates. Henceforth, he says, the French word would stand for the sign and could be used for it in writing sign language. These considerations of the nature and function of the lexicological task, and the rejection of symbols in favor skillfully worded descriptions are echoed in two recent discussions of the sign language of the American Indian. C. F. Voegelin (1958) and A. L. Kroeber (1958) disagree about the importance or priority of lexicology in analysis and description of this language, which is in some ways intricately related to the sign language of the American deaf. SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 17