Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Linguistics of Sign Languages: An Introduction

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

The Linguistics of Sign Languages: An Introduction

Article excerpt

The Linguistics of Sign Languages: An Introduction, edited by Anne Baker, Beppie van den Bogaerde, Roland Pfau, and Trude Schermer (Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2016, 378 pages, hardbound [$149; ISBN: 9789027212306] and paperback [$54; ISBN: 9789027212313])

THIS BOOK and its companion volume (A Concise Lexicon for Sign Linguistics, by Nijen Twilhaar and Beppie van den Bogaerde [Amsterdam: Benjamins, 2016]) are designed to serve as introductory textbooks to the linguistic study of sign languages. The Linguistics of Sign Languages is intended primarily for students of linguistics or those with some background in the field. In that respect it is unique. Introductory linguistics textbooks often include only brief references to sign languages (and sometimes with a focus on research on apes). Textbooks designed for students of specific sign languages, on the other hand, concentrate mainly on a single sign language, such as ASL. Thus this book differs from existing linguistics textbooks on sign languages, which are designed chiefly for students in the field.

The Linguistics of Sign Languages focuses on typology: similarities and differences among sign languages and between signed and spoken language. Each chapter is written by one or more of the authors, together with other sign language researchers in the Netherlands. Each chapter is followed by a summary, a "test yourself " section (e.g., in chapter 1, "What is the difference between a gesture and a sign?"), an "assignments" section (e.g., in chapter 4, "Construct some short conversations in a sign language that you know that violate the maxims of quantity, quality, and relevance. Present these conversations to others, if possible, in your group and have them work out which maxims are violated."), and a "references and further reading" section, which summarizes research related to the chapter topic. There is also an associated website (https://benjamins.com/sites/z.199), which provides brief answers to the assignments, video clips of signed examples, a list of Web resources, and a number of references. The "test yourself " and "assignments" sections will be useful to those who are teaching from this book. The website is a welcome innovation, but it contains some infelicities, which I address later.

The book comprises fourteen chapters, which are arranged in a somewhat unusual order for an introductory text: Topics such as acquisition and psycholinguistic processing precede any detailed description of sign language structure. Chapter 1, Sign Languages as Natural Languages, introduces sign language, sign languages, and their communities of users. Chapter 2, Psycholinguistics, includes a brief discussion of sign language and the brain and reviews the research studies on sign language production and comprehension. Chapter 3 discusses sign language acquisition in children, and chapter 4 deals with interaction and discourse. The next seven chapters cover the major linguistic areas: Chapter 5, constituents and word classes; chapter 6 and chapter 7, the syntax of simple sentences and complex sentences, respectively; chapter 8, the lexicon (including iconicity and lexicography); chapter 9, morphology; chapter 10, phonetics; and chapter 11, phonology. The final three chapters deal with sign language in its contexts of use. Chapter 12 discusses language variation and standardization, including both linguistic variation and policy issues; and chapter 13 delves into language contact and change. …

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