Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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SYNOPSIS Ceil Lucas: Introduction (pp 1-7). Benice Woll et al.: Multilingualism -- The global approach to sign languages (pp 8-32). This chapter provides an estimate of the number of sign languages in existence (ranging from 4,000 to 20,000) describing the diversity of Deaf communities using sign languages. The different factors are outlined for considering the description of any language in existence, thus showing why it is that difficult to provide an exact description of the distribution of sign languages. As these estimates might be based on either linguistic judgments about lexical or structural similarities, or on social attitudes to the languages many of the tools used for such studies derive from research conducted on spoken language. Despite all efforts, it will probably never be possible to reach a figure generally agreed upon for the number of sign languages worldwide. Another aspect of this chapter deals with the difficulties trying to describe the sign languages of the world. Deaf people in communities in different parts of the world use different sign languages. Furthermore, there are many deaf people who either do not have contact with other deaf people or even are not part of a Deaf community in any way. That is why they may develop their own communication system with hearing people using their own, however, very limited gestures, so-called home signs.
Jean Ann: Bilingualism and language contact (pp 33-60). In this chapter, Ann discusses several language contact phenomena in both spoken language and sign language communities. According to her, outcomes within the typology and distribution of bilingualism in both communities are in general largely parallel in spoken language and sign language situations. In the further course of the chapter the creation of loan vocabulary is examined in two sorts of languages: those with fingerspelling, and those without fingerspelling but with a form of representing written language called character signs. The so-called mouthing occurring in sign languages which is connected to speech is another topic of discussion within this chapter. It concludes presenting and investigating pidgins and creoles and their relevance to sign language speech, as well as the phenomena of code switching and code mixing.
Ceil Lucas et al.: Sociolinguistic variation (pp 61-111). Lucas's chapter on 'Sociolinguistic variation' supports findings proving true the predictability that users of a language belonging to particular social groups generally use more of one variant than users belonging to other social groups, and that some variants appear more frequently in certain linguistic environments than in others. Variation is constrained by both social factors (e.g. class, age, gender, ethnicity, educational level, region of origin) and linguistic factors. In this regard, Lucas cites Labov's (1963) pioneering study on Martha's Vineyard, which sought explanations for language change in the local meanings ascribed to linguistic variables. Concerning studies of linguistic variation, e.g. the apparent time construct has made it possible to model ongoing change by examining the language of people of different ages. The remainder of the chapter deals with three studies on variation in sign languages: (1) Hoopes' study of pinky extension/1998, (2) Collins and Pretonio's study of variation in Tactile ASL/1998, (3) Lucas et al's study of variation in the form of the sign DEAF/2001, reflecting changing perspectives on sign language structure and use. Lucas concludes that the variation observed in all human languages, be they spoken or signed, is for the most part systematic. While many social factors that condition variation are the same for spoken and sign languages, there are some other factors, such as language use in the home, that are unique to sign language variation. Despite the many similarities between the variable units and processes in spoken and sign languages, fundamental differences between the respective structures due to the context of deaf education are reflected in variation.
Melanie Metzger / Ben Bahan: Discourse analysis (pp 112-144). According to Metzger and Bahan, discourse analyses of sign languages make clear the necessity for examination of sign language discourse at levels above the sentence, for the improved understanding of sign language structure as well as for the understanding of language in general. Sociolinguistic research by discourse analysts about visual languages and the deaf communities using them is increasing worldwide. The two co-authors of this chapter are quite confident that it is likely the analysis of signed discourse will contribute immensely in future to the understanding of both sign languages and language in general.
Timothy Reagan: Language planning and policy (pp 145-180). Reagan discusses both the positive and negative effects of language planning and language policies for spoken languages and sign languages. According to Reagan creators and advocates of manual sign codes may have been sincere in their efforts to help deaf children. They, however, also failed to take into account the complexity of the issue surrounding the language rights of the deaf, and to recognize that both of the communities to which the language planning activities are directed must be involved in that language planning activity. Reagan claims language planning efforts have to entail the active involvement and participation of those for whom they are intended for only when emerging in such a context language planning efforts can contribute to 'the creation of more just, humane and legitimate social and educational policies'. Quoting James Tollefson as saying 'the foundation for rights is power and (...) constant struggle is necessary to sustain language rights' (1991: 167) Reagan emphasizes that this is true in the case of sign languages as well as for other languages.
Sarah Burns et al.: Language attitudes (pp 181-215). This chapter deals with exploring the nature of language attitudes and how they have been studied so far. According to the co-authors, it is clear that there is a great need for further empirical research into attitudes toward sign languages and their users, and the consequences of these attitudes. According to Burns, innovative methods of collecting and analyzing data addressing the factors that have coloured results in the past need to be developed. As at the beginning of the 21st century society is changing at an unprecedented pace it remains to be seen what impact these changes and technological advancements will have on attitudes toward sign languages and their users worldwide.
Bibliography (pp 217-248). CRITICAL EVALUATION 'The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages' is an accessible introduction to the major areas of sociolinguistics related to sign languages and Deaf communities. Clearly organized, its contributing authors survey the field covering topics such as variation, bilingualism, multilingualism, language attitudes, discourse analysis, language policy and planning. The essays deal with both macro-variables related to broader situations external to the community and micro-variables focusing on specific factors affecting particular language events and interactions. The book examines how sign languages are distributed worldwide, what occurs when they come in contact with spoken and written languages and how signers use them within different situations. Each chapter introduces the key issues in each area of inquiry and provides a comprehensive review of the relevant literature. Furthermore, at the end of each chapter further reading is suggested and helpful exercises are offered, concluding with 31 pages of an extensive and comprehensive bibliography.In my opinion, this volume enriches the general study of sociolinguistics as well as informs the specific study of sign languages in their social context. According to the editor, the outstanding book's readership is to be recruited from students in deaf studies, linguistics, and interpreter training, as well as spoken language researchers, and researchers and teachers of sign language. REFERENCES Collins, S. and K. Pretonio (1998) What happens in Tactile ASL? In C. Lucas (ed.), Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Vol. 4: Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 18-37. Hoopes, R. (1998) A preliminary examination of pinky extension: Suggestions regarding its occurrence, constraints and function. In C. Lucas (ed.), Sociolinguistics in Deaf Communities, Vol. 4: Pinky Extension and Eye Gaze: Language Use in Deaf Communities. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, 3-17. Labov, W. (1963) The social motivation of a sound change. In Word 19, 273-307. Lucas, C., et al. (in press) Location variation in American Sign Language. Sign Language Studies. Tollefson, J. (1991) Planning Language, Planning Inequality: Language Policy in the Community. London: Longman.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Guido Oebel has a PhD degree in linguistics, is a native German and is currently employed as an associate professor with Saga National University and as a visiting professor with Private University of Kurume, both situated on the southern island of Kyushu, Japan. His main areas of research are: FLL, particularly German as a Foreign Language (DaF), sociolinguistics, bilingualism, and adult education.