Sign Language: Myths and Facts

Sign language is a language articulated in the visual-spatial modality. Primarily developed and used by culturally Deaf people, the language is as sophisticated and complex as any speech (vocal-aural) language.

Brain controls language development

Research studies show that language acquisition (L1) milestones in sign language are on a similar timeline as found in speech from babbling to the two-word stage and beyond (Petitto). This suggests that the brain controls maturational language development regardless of the modality (signing or speech).

Brain doesn't tell the difference

Studies show that processing ASL (or another signed language) activates the same linguistic regions of the left brain as spoken languages. As renowned neuroscientist Dr. Petitto famously noted, the brain does not differentiate between hands and lips, which is evidence that speech isn't central to language.

Signed language isn't a version of spoken language

A signed language is a language of its own, independent from spoken languages. For examples, Ameslan (American Sign Language) and Auslan (Australian Sign Language) are not signed versions of English and they aren't based on the English language.

Similar to spoken languages, signed languages have their own grammatical rules, syntax, phonology, morphology, other linguistic features and unique complexities.

Sign language isn't a substitute for speech language

Sign language and speech language are amodal, which means language is independent from modality. Language is brain-based.

Sign language is not gestural nor pictorial

Sign language doesn't comprise a standardized system of manual gestures. Otherwise, wouldn't it be a bit weird to say speech language comprises a standardized system of vocal gestures, eh?

Language comprises symbols (words), grammar, and sentence structure. Despite some iconicity — which does not differ from speech with some iconic sounds or "onomatopoeia" — ASL signs/words are as abstract as those of any spoken languages.

Sign language isn't universal

While it's a common sense to Deaf people, hearing people aren't aware of. Contrary to common belief among hearing speakers, sign language isn't universal nor international — similar to speech language. Signed languages worldwide are as distinct as, for example, the English and Japanese spoken languages.

Signing and speech are visual-spatial and vocal-aural modalities, respectively. Language is brain-based.

Posted 2012.

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