SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 36

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. configurations (allochers) which may be observed is limited only by the criteria of difference the observer wishes to adopt. The differentiating kind of analysis, analogous to phonetics, has never been attempted for sign language. But it is quite obvious that the phenomena of the language could be thus treated were there any need for doing so. The visible phenomena of sign language need be no more limited in variety than the phonetic phenomena of speech. The findings of clinical psychology would seem to indicate that the sense of sight could discriminate more differences than the sense of hearing. But the activity is language, not vision, and that economy noted in all cultural activity operates here. Moreover, for the sign language, analysis is only beginning, while vast amounts of data have been collected and extremely fine techniques of discrimination have been employed in phonetic analysis. At this time an extensive description of the configurational data is not needed, for the operating principles of phonemic systems are well established. It is not the absolute value, the precise curvature or direction of a finger that determines the structure point, but the fact that each structure point is one of a set of such points treated as different from the others in the set by all users of the language. The configurational structure points of the American sign language are parts of a primary symbol system which has linguistic structure and so are not equivalent to the configurations of the manual alphabet, a secondary graphemic system. Although both are made visually perceptible by the hand, their relationship has some features of the relationship of the phonemes of one language to the graphemes of the writing system of another language. If this non-congruence of configuration cheremes and alphabetic configurations is kept in mind, we may for convenience still make use of letter symbols to represent the cheremes of the sign language. 1.401. In the American manual alphabet a, s, and t are all represented by a fist, the thumb respectively lying alongside the closed fingers, clasping them, or thrusting between the index and second finger. It is apparent that conditions of visibility must be good for these differences of configuration to be distinguished. The sign language, however, never makes a significant contrast solely on these differences. Instead the contrast is between any fist-like hand and all other (non- fist-like) configurations. Hands looking like a, s, and t will be observed to pattern, however, in allocheric ways. For example the tab and sig of ‘sorry’ select an s-hand as the usual dez allocher; but the tab and sign of ‘other’ select the a-allocher; and some signers may use t-allocher in ‘try’. The one symbol ‘A’ would suffice for the first chereme, but convenience of transcribing and reading suggests a closer notation here as in some other cases to indicate allochers in complementary distribution; therefore we label this chereme: A/S, using the S when the allocher of the fist-like chereme is closer to the s-hand of the manual alphabet. The symbol A t may be used if it is desired to note the occurrence of the ‘t’- like allocher of the fist chereme. 1.402. The flat hand is the second chereme in our arbitrary ordering. It has allochers resembling the b-hand of the manual alphabet: the hand is a prolongation of the wrist or is slightly bent back to display the palm, the fingers together and parallel, and the thumb bent across the palm. The sign language hand may however appear more similar to the 4-hand of one system of manual numeration in conventional use: this is the same as b except that the four fingers are spread. It may be quite like the 5-hand, thumb and fingers spread tensely or loosely. And finally it may be combine b and 5 by keeping the fingers closed, but the thumb extended. This we label the B/5 SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 36