S(IV). Linguistic. 15 Gestures and sign languages

            This old lady, in her nineties, but sharp as a pin, would sometimes fall into a peaceful reverie. As
            she did so, she might have seemed to be knitting, her hands in constant complex motion. But
            her daughter, also a signer, told me she was not knitting but thinking to herself, thinking in Sign.
            And even in sleep, I was further informed, the old lady might sketch fragmentary signs on the
            counterpane. She was dreaming in Sign.Sacks (1989) When we considered the process of language acquisition, we concentrated on the fact that what is naturally acquired by most children is speech. Yet this is not the only way that a first  language can be acquired. Just as most children of English-speaking or Spanish-speaking    parents naturally acquire English or Spanish at a very early age, so the deaf children of deaf   parents naturally acquire Sign (or Sign Language). Later in life, as Oliver Sacks observed,   they may even use Sign when they “talk” in their sleep. If those children grow up in American  homes, they will typically acquire American Sign Language, also known as Ameslan or ASL,   as their version of Sign. With a signing population of at least half a million, and perhaps as   many as two million, ASL is a widely used language in the United States. The size of this  population is quite remarkable since, until relatively recently, the use of ASL was  discouraged in most educational institutions for the deaf. In fact, historically, very few  teachers of the deaf learned ASL, or even considered it to be a “real” language at all. For many  people, Sign wasn’t language, it was “merely gestures.”Gestures

              Although both Sign and gestures involve the use of the hands (with other parts of the
              body), they are rather different. Sign is like speech and is used instead of speaking,

              whereas gestures are mostly used while speaking. Examples of gestures are making a

              downward movement with one hand while talking about not doing very well in a class
              or making a twisting motion with one hand as you describe trying to open a bottle or

              jar. The gestures are just part of the way in which meaning is expressed and can be
              observed while people are speaking and signing.

                 In the study of non-verbal behavior, a distinction can be drawn between gestures
              and  emblems.  Emblems  are  signals  such  as  “thumbs  up”  (=  things  are  good)  or

              “shush” (= keep quiet) that function like fixed phrases and do not depend on speech.

              Emblems are conventional and depend on social knowledge (e.g. what is and isn’t
              considered offensive in a particular social world). In Britain, the use of two fingers (the

              index  and  middle  fingers  together) raised  in  a  V-shape  traditionally  represents  one
              emblem (= victory) when the back of the hand faces the sender and a quite different

              emblem (= I insult you in a very offensive way) when the back of the hand faces the

              receiver of the signal. It is important, when visiting different places, not to get the local
              emblems mixed up.

              Types of gestures


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