SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 43

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. Again, the signer may have a rhetorical use for the non-signing hand. The left hand may hold a dez used in a sign for naming a person or object while the right hand alone ‘says something’ perhaps about what another person did to the first. Some of the signs in this recital will be one- handed anyway and some will have body tabs. In this context a sign or two which should have a hand tab or a double dez will be understood perfectly, though the left hand is still marking an element of previous discourse. There is still another factor to be considered in the occurrence of one-handed signs which were formerly, or are formally, made with two hands. Economy of effort as a principle of language change will always be checked by need for ready intelligibility. As was noted above in connection with shift from body tab to zero tab, the dez and sig may be sufficient to distinguish a sign from others; but is quite possible that signers without being aware of doing so tend to drop some of the distinguishing features of a sign when its contexts alone, or syntactic distribution, would suffice or almost suffice to determine it. This is not simply the counterpart of the ‘*** **** **, said I’ of Tristram Shandy although both are cases of visible symbols; but it has the features of the processes by which languages come to tolerate numbers of homonyms which formerly were distinct phonemically. 2.6. Although the typical signer, like a speaker of any language, may appear to be quite conservative about neologisms, there is evidence of rapid and widespread change in the two hundred years since the sign language was recognized, used in teaching, and partially recorded. The difference between the methodical signs in Sicard’s Theroie (1808) and the signs now in use in the United States is large, but still apparently evolutionary. But even in the sign data observed in this study there is evidence of structural change. This is nowhere more apparent than in the language’s treatment of signs which may be termed compounds and contractions. The principle of the methodical or consciously invented sign, as noted in the Introduction is multiple signaling of structural and semantic information. A base sign for the lexical meaning would be followed by signals for designating the part of speech, number, gender, degree, etc. Detailed historical studies are so far only in the planning stage, but it seems reasonable to suppose that the methodical signs underwent considerable change as they moved from the text-book and the systematic course in French grammar into the colloquial language. There are many signs now in use which show this kind of origin and presumably many more not obviously so derived will be found to have some from the same source. A direct link between the French methodical signs and the signs used in the United States is the preservation in manuals by Long, Higgins, and others of traditional etymologies. In addition the American sign language has or had until recently a large toleration for compound or complex signs--which all the methodical signs had to be. 2.61. As described and illustrated in the manuals, ‘brother’ is signed ‘man-same’; that is, the signer makes the sign for ‘man’ and immediately follows it with the sign for ‘alike‘ or ‘same': uM ×# f /G f G f × . ‘Son’ is signed, according to the same sources, as ‘man-baby’: uM ×# f /aa gz (the supine arms are laid together and the mimed baby is rocked). ‘Father’ is ‘man-generation before’: uM ×# f /B a B a^< . ‘Lady’, according to the manuals, is ‘woman-polite’: A â /[5 × . All these signs are true compounds in the terminology of this paper. Each one is not only treated syntactically as a single sign but is often accompanied in simultaneous utterance by speaking the single English word equivalent in meaning. Although each element of the compound is complete with tab, dez, and sig of its own, the elements form a syntactic and semantic unit. But these are ‘classical’ signs, their form defined, their etymology recorded, and their meaning SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 43