Hand Talk: Sign Language among American Indian Nations

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from BN.com
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $88.73
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 22%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (7) from $88.73   
  • New (4) from $88.73   
  • Used (3) from $114.98   


American Indian nations of the Great Plains and cultural groups bordering this geographic area spoke so many different languages that verbal communication between them was difficult. As extensive trade networks developed and political alliances became necessary, an elegant language of the hands developed that cut across spoken language barriers. Though now endangered, this sign language continues to serve a vital role in traditional storytelling, rituals, legends, prayers, conversational narratives, and as a primary language of American Indians who are deaf. This volume contains the most current descriptions of all levels of the language from phonology to discourse, as well as comparisons with other sign languages. This is the first work of its kind to be produced in more than a century, and is intended for students of sign language as well as those wishing to learn more about American Indian languages and cultures.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'With its very comprehensive account of the study and structure of Plains Indian Sign Language, with the valuable links that it provides to sign languages used by deaf people and with its accompanying website, this volume is a wonderful and timely resource.' Ceil Lucas, Gallaudet University

'This is not just another book! It is a riveting narrative of an endangered Native American sign language that has served an essential role in Native American culture and life. For sign language studies, Native American studies, linguistics, anthropology, and a host of other allied professionals, as well as for the American public, Jeff Davis has made a momentous professional and social contribution. This is a landmark work that deserves the widest professional and popular audience.' Walt Wolfram, North Carolina State University

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521870108
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 9/6/2010
  • Pages: 274
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffrey E. Davis is Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Tennessee.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of figures

List of diagrams

List of tables



List of tribal delegates at the Indian Sign Language Council, 1930

Notational conventions

1 The language landscape 1

1.1 Introduction 1

1.2 The expanse of Native North America 1

1.3 Endangered languages 2

1.4 Issues of naming 3

1.5 North American Indian signed language 5

1.6 Frequently asked questions 12

1.7 PISL today 15

1.8 Summary 17

2 Earliest historical linguistic accounts 18

2.1 Spanish explores 18

2.2 Question of origins 19

2.3 Nineteenth-century explorations to the west 21

2.4 Earliest published lexical descriptions 22

2.5 The natural language of signs 23

2.6 Questions of historical sign language contact 24

2.7 Martha's Vineyard Sign Language 25

2.8 The consequences of industrialization 27

2.9 Early descriptions of American Sign Language 27

3 A national treasure 30

3.1 The Smithsonian's Bureau of Ethnology 31

3.2 The National Anthropological Archives 31

3.3 Civil War Reconstruction 33

3.4 Custer's Last Stand 39

3.5 A calendar of the Dakota nation 40

3.6 Mallery takes a controversial stand 41

3.7 Shifting paradigms 44

3.8 Discussion and summary 47

3.9 Mallery's life and research: a historical and cultural chronology 48

4 Early sign language studies 51

4.1 Mallery's early publications on Indian Sign Language 53

4.2 Collaborators 54

4.3 Walter James Hoffman (1846-1899) 55

4.4 The language of signs 58

4.5 Mallery's theory of signs 59

4.6 The emergent discipline of anthropology 64

4.7 Ban on the subject of language origins 66

4.8 The campaign against sign language 67

4.9 Summary 69

5 The spectrum of discourse: from ceremonial to conversational 72

5.1 The Indian Sign Language Council, 1930 72

5.2 Film dictionary of Indian Sign Language 78

5.3 Sanderville's narratives 80

5.4 White Horse's narrative 81

5.5 Analysis of discourse genres 83

5.6 Summary 84

6 The convergence of anthropology and linguistics 85

6.1 The lineage of Franz Boas 85

6.2 Early anthropological linguistic fieldwork 86

6.3 The arbitrary-iconic continuum: issues of language transparency 87

6.4 The findings of LaMont West 90

6.5 The emergence of sign language linguistics 95

6.6 Summary 97

7 Comparative studies of historical linguistic relatedness 99

7.1 Research aims 100

7.2 The comparative method of linguistic reconstruction 101

7.3 Cross-linguistic studies of signed languages 102

7.4 Thresholds of historical relatedness 107

7.5 North American Indian Sign Language corpus 109

7.6 Preliminary studies 122

7.7 PISL and ASL lexical similarity 124

7.8 Discussion of results and implications 127

7.9 Summary, conclusion, and future research 129

8 Linguistic anlysis of PISL 133

8.1 Phonology and phonetics 133

8.2 Morphology 140

8.3 PISL pronouns 150

8.4 Constructed action or dialogue 151

8.5 Syntax 153

8.6 The lexicon 160

8.7 Semantics 167

8.8 Summary of findings 169

9 Conclusions 171

9.1 PISL yesterday, today, and tomorrow 171

9.2 PISL compared with other signed languages 174

9.3 Emergent sign systems 176

9.4 The question of language youth 179

9.5 Types of sign language communities 179

9.6 Taxonomy of signed communication systems 180

9.7 Comparison of sign language types 183

9.8 Gesture studies 184

9.9 Conclusion 186

Appendix 1 Myths about sign language 188

Appendix 2 Sample annotations of signs featured in the illustrations 191

Appendix 3 Introductions to films of the 1930 Indian Sign Language Council: transcriptions and translations 197

Glossary of key terms 202

Notes 210

References 225

Index 240

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)