SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 29

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. 1. Cherology 2 1.0. Sign language utterances contain both signs and finger-spelled English words in varying proportions, but structural differences make it possible to separate the two. And for the purposes of cherology (the sign language analogue of phonology) the two must be kept separate. The units of the syntactical system are morphemes, but morphemes of two completely different systems of structure. The finger-spelled English word is a series of digital symbols which stand in a one to one relationship with the letters of the English alphabet, but the word itself is a morpheme or combination of morphemes constructed from English language sounds on principles systematically described by the phonemics and morphophonemics of English. Though the deaf person may never have heard a sound, such is the power of symbolics and the adaptability of the human mind, he may still have acquired the ability to use the written or fingerspelled word with as much symbolic force as any speaker of English can achieve. The sign, on the contrary, is a unit of the sign language, constructed, as are all morphemes from the isolates of its own language system by principles that it will be the purpose of this part of the paper to explain. To the signer these two kinds of morphemes may, out of awareness, be treated as equivalent because they are freely interchangeable in his utterance; but as soon as their structure is examined, the visually presented English word and the sign are discovered to differ radically. The statement, ‘Yes; I know him’ remains the same whether each of the four words in it is signed or fingerspelled. Thus without any change in the word order there are sixteen different ways of signing it. ‘Know’, for instance, is spelled by making with the fingers of the hand, successively, the configurations for k, n, o, and w; but ‘know’ is signed by touching the tips of the fingers of the slightly bent hand to the forehead. It is signed thus in isolation, that is, much as know is said / 3 nów 1 #/ in isolation; but in sign language utterance ‘know’ may get only a slight movement upward of the bent hand. The greatest communicative difference between these two structurally different kinds of morphemes available to the user of the sign language is seen in this possibility of variation within a pattern. Finger-spelling is telegraphic in several senses of the word, but the signed ‘know’ may have modifications which can vary the meaning of the sentence from ‘Yes, I am acquainted with him’; to ‘Oh, sure; it’s only what I expected of him’; to give but two possibilities. The completely finger-spelled sentence has only the signer’s facial expression to differentiate it from the same thing written on paper; it is at one more remove from language itself than writing and thus is a territory symbol system, not itself a sign language. There are no clear indications that the sign language of the American Indiana transcends this kind of relationship. But the structure of the sign, in the sign language of the deaf, permits considerable linguistic latitude, because the sign itself is not an isolate but a structure of elements which themselves admit of linguistic variation. 1.1. The twenty-six letters of the English alphabet are represented in finger-spelling by nineteen distinct configurations. Different attitudes of three of these configurations add five more letter symbols; and motion of two of the configurations give the last two. Thus there are three modes of symbolizing within the American manual alphabet. The letters a, b, c, e, f, i, l, m, o, r, s, t, v, w, x, and y are represented by unique configurations of the hand. The letters d, g, and q share one configuration variously oriented; as do another triplet, h, u, and n; and a pair, k and p. Two 2 The editor of SASLJ would like to acknowledge Angus Grieve-Smith for allowing this journal to use his StokoeTempo software for writing Stokoe's notations. SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 29