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Sign language and overcoming deafness

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  1. The history of American Sign Language
  2. The use of grammatical rules and sentence structure
  3. Poetry and wordplay
  4. The left hemisphere, the area associated with language

Anybody that has traveled to a foreign country can appreciate the feelings of helplessness when no one speaks your language. We all take for granted the fact that when we want or need something, we can make strange sounds with our mouth to make it happen. However, not even the hardiest of world travelers can understand the feelings of helplessness that arise from not being able to understand any language at all, feelings that are the everyday norm of millions of deaf people. How can one exist in a world where communication is entirely auditory when one cannot hear a sound?

[...] Sign language is a true language in every sense of the word, possessing grammar, syntax, and even poetry. According to sociological studies, forms of sign language have existed for as long as there were deaf people, dating back thousands of years: ?sign languages have probably sprung up independently in many different places. Signing probably began with simple gestures, but then evolved into a true language with structured grammar? (Wolkomir, 313). A recently discovered Mayan village had preserved a form of Mayan sign language for thousands of years, passing down the gestures and grammar from generation to generation. [...]

[...] Thus, ASL speakers can craft a number of sentences using the same signs, much in the same way that English speakers can craft different sentences using the same words (Stewart, 239). American Sign Language speakers can also use their language to create poetry and wordplay, something which has traditionally been restricted to spoken languages (Brueggemann, 411). Poetry performed in ASL shares all of the elements of poetry performed in a spoken language, including rhyming, rhythm, and meter: ?maintenance or repetition of hand shape provides rhyming, while meter occurs in the timing and type of movement? (Wolkomir, 318). [...]

[...] This is a result of the realization that sign language has it's own system of grammar, is capable of representing abstract thought, and is regulated by the left hemisphere of the brain, the part responsible for language. Studies performed on the history of sign language have shown that it is a living language, constantly changing and being updated. One researcher that studied sign language across the U.S found a difference between Northern sign and Southern sign: ?Southerners use older forms of ASL signs than Northerners do. Southern blacks use even more of the older signs? (316). [...]

[...] Wordplay is achieved by subtly altering the nature of a sign. The sign for ?understanding,? is a flipped index finger near the forehead. However, if the little finger is flipped instead, it is a joke meaning that there is a little understanding (Wolkomir, 318). Finally, research into brain functions has shown that sign language is centered in the left hemisphere, the area associated with language, rather than in the right hemisphere, the area associated with perception of visual space. Researchers experimented with deaf people that had suffered brain damage to either the right or left hemisphere and their ability to sign afterwards. [...]

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