The Study of Signed Languages: Essays in Honor of William C. Stokoe

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The late William C. Stokoe changed the landscape of linguistic inquiry when, in the mid-1960s, he began to prove that signed languages, particularly American Sign Language, met all criteria to constitute genuine languages. At that time, most scholars rejected Stokoe's theories outright. But, in 1999, many of today's notable researchers assembled at a special conference in Stokoe's honor to explore the remarkable research that grew out of his originalinsights on American Sign Language. The Study of Signed Languages presents the fascinating findings from that conference.

Part 1, Historical Perspectives, begins with a description of the decline of sign language usage in the late 1800s. Past research on signed languages and their relationship to language origins theory follows, along with a consideration of modality and conflicting agendas for their study.

In Part 2, Language Origins, the first entry intrigues with the possibility that sign language could answer conundrums posed by Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories. The next essay considers how to build a better language model by citing continuity, ethology, and Stokoe's work as key elements. Stokoe's own research on the gestural theory of language origins is examined in the section's closing chapter.

Part 3, Diverse Populations, delineates the impact of sign language research on Black Deaf communities in America, on deaf education, on research into variation in sign language, and even on sign communication and the motor functioning of autistic children and others. In its wide-ranging, brilliant scholarship, The Study of Signed Language? demonstrates the enormous range of influence exercised by William C. Stokoe and serves as a fitting tribute to him and his work.

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Editorial Reviews

This text contains papers that were presented at an October 1999 conference at Gallaudet University in honor of the 80th birthday of William C. Stokoe, one of the most influential language scholars of the 20th century. Twenty-two international specialists contribute 12 chapters on the historical context of Stokoe's work; the issue of language origins; the diverse populations, deaf and hearing, which have benefited from Stokoe's work; and the influence of Stokoe's work on other scholarly research in the field of signed language linguistics. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781563685101
  • Publisher: Gallaudet University Press
  • Publication date: 2/15/2011
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Contributors
Preface: William C. Stokoe and the Study of Signed Languages
Introduction: Bill Stokoe: An ASL Trailblazer 1
Pt. 1 Historical Perspectives
Introduction 9
1 The Curious Death of Sign Language Studies in the Nineteenth Century 13
2 Historical Observations on the Relationship Between Research on Sign Languages and Language Origins Theory 35
3 Modality Effects and Conflicting Agendas 53
Pt. 2 Language Origins
Introduction 85
4 Does Sign Language Solve the Chomsky Problem? 89
5 Continuity, Ethology, and Stokoe: How to Build a Better Language Model 100
6 William C. Stokoe and the Gestural Theory of Language Origins 118
Pt. 3 Diverse Populations
Introduction 133
7 The Impact of Variation Research on Deaf Communities 137
8 The Impact of Sign Language Research on Black Deaf Communities in America 161
9 Bilingualism and the Impact of Sign Language Research on Deaf Education 172
10 Sign Communication Training and Motor Functioning in Children with Autistic Disorder and in Other Populations 190
11 Gesture and the Nature of Language in Infancy: The Role of Gesture as a Transitional Device En Route to Two-Word Speech 213
Concluding Thoughts: The Future of American Sign Language 247
Index 263
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