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