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From:  "Angus B. Grieve-Smith"
Date:  Wed Oct 6, 1999  2:02 pm
Subject:  Re: Sandinistas

On Tue, 5 Oct 1999, Joe Martin wrote:

> In the US, signing was forbidden and actively suppressed for
> generations, yet the the same language creation process took place In
> Spite Of a well-enforced, longlasting policy of active repression.
> US educational policy did bring deaf people together, though, so by
> your reasoning we would have to credit US educational policy for the
> creation of ASL.

You're misinterpreting my claim. Of course, the intent of US
educational policy was the opposite of its effect. That doesn't mean that
it didn't have an effect. It might have succeeded in wiping out Deaf
culture and ASL if, instead of concentrated indoctrination in residential
schools, it had isolated Deaf kids from each other and restricted their
peer groups to hearing kids. You could call it "mainstreaming."

Conversely, the Sandinistas intended to provide universal Spanish
literacy, and they wound up unintentionally creating a new language.
However, you could imagine a government deliberately creating Deaf schools
with the intention of bringing into existence a new signed language among
people who never shared one before.

My main issue is with the claim that signed languages have existed
throughout time. I do in fact like the idea that Sherman Wilcox and
others have proposed that the first languages may have been gestural. But
in order for there to have been an unbroken chain of signed languages from
then to now, there would have to have been a critical-mass population of
Deaf people existing for tens of thousands of years. Remember that we
don't have any evidence for towns of more than a hundred thousand until
relatively recently.

Angus B. Grieve-Smith
Linguistics Department
The University of New Mexico

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