SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 20

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. The one full length modern study of the visual communication of the deaf is Father Bernard Theodoor Marie Tervoort’s dissertation Structurelle analyse ́ van visuell tealgebruik binnen een groep dove kinderen (Amsterdam, 1953). This work, though an interesting exploration of such questions as spontaneous language origin and development and the psychological-linguistic implications of visual instead of visual-acoustic orientation and of esoteric and exoteric languages and their grammatical-logical categories, has actually slight bearing on the present study for several reasons: In Holland where his observations were made, signing alone, or with simultaneous spoken accompaniment as practiced in many American schools, is not used as a medium of instruction. Officially prohibited, it occurs as an ‘after hours’ activity among the school children he studied, most of them unacquainted with any sign language outside their own group. His conclusions show that the signs they used were developed in the school group itself and tended to vanish when the group dispersed. The signs he observed were always accomplishments of speech or silent speech-like movements and could thus be in no way substitutes for speech. He therefore analyzed stretches of this combined visual-oral language by using the categories of traditional Dutch grammar. The present study is of a sign language which has a wide geographical currency as well as a recorded persistence through more than a century, which is accepted as an educational medium, and which will in this and projected studies be shown to have a syntactical, morphemic, and sub-morphemic structure different from that of English. Moreover, for several reasons, the observations in Tervoort’s study were limited to children under the ages of puberty, while the practice in the present study is to follow the principle of choosing informants from among the intelligent adult members of the language community. The writer is well acquainted with Father Tervoort who is making Gallaudet College his headquarters while engaged in a study of the language and psychological development of students of two American schools for the deaf over a six-year period. His working hypothesis is an extension of his original thesis that the deaf child has ‘two languages, an esoteric and an exoteric one; one for mutual intercourse, the other for talk with outsiders’ (English summary, 1.293) and he has stated that in the first two months of the experiment there are already indications that the esoteric elements tend to disappear as the child matures in the direction of a more or less standard English. With the caveat that the writer and Fr. Tervoort disagree amicably on terminology, the writer in this context would characterize the other’s work as more in the nature of a controlled experiment in the fields of psychology and educational method than strictly in the field of linguistics (Trager, 1949). The writer also believes that in the experience of the American deaf person there are two languages, not esoteric and exoteric and therefore only psychologically distinct, but linguistically different: these two are American English, known to the deaf through various substitutes for hearing, and the American sign language, the subject of this microlinguistic study. Exploration of the possibilities of sign language for international use continues also. The World Federation of the Deaf issued at Rome in 1959 a booklet of 339 photographs (for 323 signs) captioned by numbers only, followed by alphabetical indices of English and French words keyed to the numbered pictures (Première contribution pour le dictionnaire international du langage des signes, terminologie de conférence). Some of the English-word=sign-picture correspondences seem to be identical with the word-sign equivalence generally accepted by users of the American sign language; other words are connected with quite unfamiliar signs. There is a third category of correspondences--the word translated by a sign which in American sign language usually renders SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 20