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From:  Valerie Sutton
Date:  Thu Oct 21, 1999  1:28 am
Subject:  Re: number of spoken and SLs

On Mon, 18 Oct 1999, Steve Parkhurst wrote:
>Let me give you an example: In the US there are 175 living spoken languages
>(mostly Native American languages) yet there is only one SL. And although
>there may be regional differences, there is an amazing amount of
>uniformity. I've seen more difference between alumni of two different Deaf
>schools here in Madrid than between the ASL in Seattle and NC (that's my
>impression, not an established fact). Anyway, let me continue: In the
>Philippines there are 168 living languages, yet the SL there is a dialect
>of ASL. So, you see there is not a one-to-one correspondence between SL and
>spoken language. (This holds true in lots of other countries too.)
>So, I would have to say that it is inaccurate to say that there are "as
>many signed languages in the world, as there are spoken languages in the
>world." But I do think it is fair to say that there are at least 100 sign
>languages and likely many more than that.


October 20, 1999

Steve - Thanks for this excellent writing - great information!

I realized when I read your piece that I was making a distinction in my own
mind between "Sign Languages" and "signed languages". Since I am not a
linguist, I may be incorrect...this is the way I was using those terms:

"Sign Language" me means an established signed language that is
taught in schools, standardized at times, and studied by others. In other
words..."official languages" such as ASL or LSE or whatever. In my
terminology, you are saying that there are at least 100 Sign Languages in
the world.

"signed language" me means all categories of languages that use
motion to communicate, the Sign Languages plus other
"gesture-related-languages" in the world, including "home signed languages"
that only exist in a home between three people...or like the Deaf man whom
I recorded in SignWriting back in Fall, 1975. His name was Kagobai, and he
was born-deaf on an isolated island in the South Pacific...because he was
the son of the chief, he was the only born-deaf child allowed to live in
that culture (the others were killed in early childhood). He created his
own form of communication with the islanders that was quite sophisticated.
I recorded him from video for a linguist at the University of Copenhagen
and we published a book in SignWriting on Kagobai...I wonder if people
would be interested in that book today? It was called:

Examples of Notation of a South Pacific Sign
This booklet recorded mime-like gestures and
home signs of a lone Deaf man, based on
research by Rolf Kuschel. It included
pictures with SignWriting illustrations. No longer in

Anyway - Kagobai and the islanders had sophisticated communication while he
lived...that I consider a signed language. It is not a Sign Language,
because when he died, the language died with him, since the islanders began
to forget it, since they didn't need it any longer. So I think there are a
lot of "unstudied signed languages" in the world.

But no matter what, of course you are right, that there could not be as
many studied Sign Languages in the world as "official spoken
languages"....that is for sure!

I hope SW is going well for you and Dianne in Spain...I love your book and
I hope it will be published soon :-)

And you have to give your little boy Spencer a hug for me - I bet he is
getting big!! He is turning one-years-old soon, right?

Best -

Val ;-)


Valerie Sutton

SignWritingSite...Lessons Online

SignBankSite...Databases Online

Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA

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