SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 30

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. letters are symbolized by configuration plus motion. The i-hand draws a j in the air so symbolize j; and the index finger (d and g) draws the z. Fig. 1 shows these symbols and configurations. Except for j and z the symbolization of letters is by static show of configuration. Motion is non-significant and is limited to that needed to change attitude and configuration. But this is true only for the alphabet considered as a set of symbols mutually contrasting. In use for spelling, one hand symbol may need to contrast with itself as is the case when a doubled letter occurs. There are three ways of signaling this occurrence, their choice structurally determined. With j and z doubling is simply a matter of making the necessary movement twice. Configurations which require an opposition of thumb and fingers, or a grip, are doubled by opening or relaxing the fingers and repeating the configuration. Other configurations are moved to the side with a slight shake to show double occurrence. Word endings are marked by holding the terminal letter an almost imperceptibly longer time than the others. Word beginnings may be marked by a displacement of the hand from a previous position. These observations, however, approach the region of individual preference and style and should be so considered. Here is a tabular summary of the contrastive system of the American manual alphabet: Contrast by configuration, normal attitude: and inverted attitude: and horizontal attitude: and motion: a b c d e f i k l m o r s t u v w x y q p n g h z j A great deal of the contrastive load is put on the differences of configuration so that the other two resources of the system, attitude and motion, are very slightly used. So slight are some of the differentiating features that the system is less effective for communication over distance, to large groups of viewers, and in poor light than for tête-á-tête use. Nevertheless it is workable, useful, almost indispensable, and in heavy use by the deaf; and what is more it is an excellent means of communicating with the deaf-blind. The writer, introduced to a deaf-blind man after two or three years experience with using the manual alphabet with deaf persons found that a conversation was not only possible but also amazingly rapid and easy. The deaf-blind person reads the alphabet by holding his hand lightly against the front or back of the speller’s hand. The relatively small use of motion and attitude change is an advantage under these conditions by reception. The nature of finger-spelling, evanescent though the symbols are, is that of a graphemic system. And as any grapheme may have allographic forms, so the configurations of the manual alphabet actually observed in use show variations. For example, the pictured e of the manual alphabet has all four fingernails touching the edge of the thumb, but frequently seen is an allograph in which only the first two fingers meet the thumb, the others being tightly folded into the palm. Other allographic differences are the result not only of individual preference but also of the conformation, flexibility, and muscle tons of the signer’s fingers. A difference between the appearance of men’s and women’s formation and articulation of the ‘letters’ is noticed even by observers who are not familiar with the system, and this difference, it may be noted, runs through SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 30