Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-bmzkg Total loading time: 0.242 Render date: 2022-07-05T04:38:06.050Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Vive la différence: Sign language and spoken language in language evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 March 2014

Wendy Sandler*
Affiliation:
University of Haifa. E-mail: wendy.sandler@gmail.com

Abstract

Michael Arbib's book proposes a scenario of language evolution that begins with pantomime, progresses to proto-sign, and then develops together with proto-speech in an “expanding spiral” to create a language-ready brain. The richness of detail in Arbib's hypothesis makes serious appraisal of each of its aspects possible. Here I describe findings about established and emerging sign languages that bear specifically upon the interaction between sign and speech proposed in the Mirror System Hypothesis. While supporting the central role that Arbib attributes to gestural/visual communication in understanding language and its evolution, I point out some kinks in the spiral that potentially disrupt its smooth expansion. One is the fact that each modality relies on an entirely different motor system. Another is the type of relation that holds between the articulators and grammatical structure, which is radically different in each system as well. A third kink disrupts the proposed continuity between holistic pantomime (gestural holophrases) and signs. Given such differences, instead of a scenario in which speech grew out of sign, it seems more likely that the two modalities complemented each other symbiotically throughout evolution as they do today. If so, then the modern ability to spontaneously create sign languages reveals the extraordinary richness and plasticity of human cognition, and not an evolutionary stepping stone to speech.

Type
The perspective from sign language
Copyright
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2013

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Arbib, M. 2012. How the brain got language: The mirror system hypothesis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boer, B. de, Sandler, W. & Kirby, S.. 2012. New perspectives on duality of patterning: Introduction to the special issue. Language and Cognition 4(4). 251259.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brentari, D. 1998. A prosodic model of sign language phonology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
Browman, C. & Goldstein, L.. 1992. Articulatory phonology: An overview. Phonetica 49(3&4). 155180.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Call, J. & Tomasello, M.. 2007. The gestural communication of apes and monkeys. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.Google Scholar
Davis, B. L., MacNeilage, P. F. & Matyear, C. L.. 2002. Acquisition of serial complexity in speech production: A comparison of phonetic and phonological approaches to first word production. Phonetica 59. 75107.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Deacon, T. 1997. The symbolic species: The coevolution of language and the brain. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.Google Scholar
Donald, M. 1991. Origins of the modern mind: Three stages in the evolution of culture and cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Dudis, P. 2008. Types of depiction in ASL. In de Quadros, R. Müller (ed.), Sign language: Spinning and unraveling the past, present and future, 159190. Florianópolis, SC, Brazil: Editora Arara Azul.Google Scholar
Fitch, T. 2010. The evolution of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Goldstein, L., Byrd, D. & Saltzman, E.. 2006. The role of vocal tract gestural action units in understanding the evolution of phonology. In Arbib, M. (ed.), Action to language via the mirror neuron system, 159190. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Hockett, C. F. 1960. The origins of speech. Scientific American 203. 8996.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Israel, A. & Sandler, W.. 2011. Phonological category resolution in a new sign language: A comparative study of handshapes. In Channon, R. & van der Hulst, H. (eds.), Formational units in sign languages, 177202. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Google Scholar
Lillo-Martin, D. & Klima, E.. 1990. Pointing out the differences: ASL pronouns in syntactic theory. In Fischer, S. D. & Siple, P. (eds.), Theoretical issues in sign language research, 191210. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.Google Scholar
MacNeilage, P. F. 1998. The origin of speech. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
McNeill, D. 1992. Hand and mind: What gestures reveal about thought. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Meier, R. P., Cormier, K. & Quinto-Pozos, D. (eds.). 2002. Modality and structure in signed and spoken languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meir, I. 2010. Iconicity and metaphor: Constraints on metaphorical extension of iconic forms. Language 86(4). 865896.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meir, I., Padden, C., Aronoff, M. & Sandler, W.. 2007. Body as subject. Journal of Linguistics 43(3). 531563.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Meir, I., Padden, C., Aronoff, M. & Sandler, W.. 2013. Competing iconicities. Cognitive Linguistics 24(2). 309343.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Meir, I. & Sandler, W.. 2008. A language in space. The story of Israeli Sign Language. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
Padden, C. & Humphries, T.. 2005. Inside deaf culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Perniss, P., Thompson, R. L. & Vigliocco, G.. 2010. Iconicity as a general property of language: Evidence from spoken and signed languages. Frontiers in Psychology 1. 227.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pinker, S. & Jackendoff, R.. 2005. The faculty of language: What's special about it? Cognition 95. 201236.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W. 1989. Phonological representation of the sign: Linearity and nonlinearity in American Sign Language. Dordrecht: Foris.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W. 1993. Sign language and modularity. Lingua 89(4). 315351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W. 2009. Symbiotic symbolization by hand and mouth in sign language. Semiotica 174(1/4). 241275.Google Scholar
Sandler, W. 2013. Designated gestures and the emergence of sign language. Gesture 12(3). 265307.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W. & Lillo-Martin, D.. 2006. Sign language and linguistic universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W., Meir, I., Dachkovsky, S., Padden, C. & Aronoff, M.. 2011. The emergence of complexity in prosody and syntax. Lingua 121(13). 20142033.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Sandler, W., Meir, I., Padden, C. & Aronoff, M.. 2005. The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 102(7). 26612665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Sandler, W., Meir, I., Padden, C. & Aronoff, M.. To appear. Language emergence: Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language. In Enfield, N., Kockelman, P. & Sidnell, J. (eds.), Cambridge handbook of linguistic anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Stokoe, W. 1960. Sign language structure: An outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. Buffalo, NY: University of Buffalo.Google Scholar
Tocheri, M. W., Orr, C. M., Jacofsky, M. C. & Marzke, M. W.. 2008. The evolutionary history of the homominin hand since the last common ancestor of Pan and Homo. Journal of Anatomy 212(4). 544562.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Taub, S. F. 2001. Language from the body: Iconicity and metaphor in American Sign Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wray, A. 1998. Protolanguage as a holistic system for social interaction. Language and Communication 18. 4767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
18
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Vive la différence: Sign language and spoken language in language evolution
Available formats
×

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Vive la différence: Sign language and spoken language in language evolution
Available formats
×

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Vive la différence: Sign language and spoken language in language evolution
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *