Date: Sat Oct 23, 1999 1:48
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: # of Sign Langs
"Sign Language" .....to 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
"signed language"....to 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
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..
----------Joe talking now:
This is what makes it impossible to say "how many" languages. Even with
spoken languages, we can't say there is one language in Scandinavia; the
Swedes and Norwegians won't let us! ;-) And in China, the opposite
problem, they speak a whole bunch of different languages, but even they
talk about something imaginary called "Chinese." So political boundaries
make it impossible.
That's mostly irrelevant to signed languages, but defining them is
even worse. Rennellese Sign Language (Kagobai, above?) seems to be
accepted as one of the real signed languages, even listed in the
Ethnologue, yet it only had one speaker. Can a language have one speaker?
Two?--like deaf siblings? Or twin speech? And how sophisticated
does it have to be before we count it? All deaf children create their
own homesigns, as do hearing children before they learn to speak. Count
These are questions that cannot be answered. All we can do is make rough
estimates. And Diane & Steve's 100+ figure is the best I've seen.
Joe Martin, Plain Old Ordinary Student
Top Left Corner USA