Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 November 2008
The relationship of gesticulation to speech has received considerable theoretical and empirical attention from investigators interested in the verbal status of gesture, its use in prelinguistic children, and the role of gestures in social and pragmatic communication. The relationship of gesticulation to sign language, in contrast, has received less attention. Although the gestures of deaf children have been investigated in the contexts of language acquisition and linguistic flexibility, the functions of gestures used by deaf versus hearing individuals have not been examined. One difficulty for such a study stems from the fact that gesture and sign language occur in the same modality. Gesture and sign are considered here with an eye toward determining those aspects of manual communication that are specific to users of signed languages and those in common with users of oral languages. This examination reveals that gestures produced by deaf individuals can be distinguished from the sign language in which they are embedded, both in terms of their privilege of occurrence and their semantic and pragmatic functions.