[Marxism] origins of language, nature of sign language etc.

Nick Halliday halliday.nick at gmail.com
Tue Aug 2 05:18:29 MDT 2005

A reader of marxmail on the web asked me to forward this response to
the list (in response to CC and others).

Nick H

>>This seems utterly unlikely. Sign language for the most part is
parasitic on spoken language.Incidentally, talking about how to do
something is not yet language.Telling how one has done something is
not yet language. Tal[k]ing about three things that one might do in a
situation that one knows is not going to occur is language.

Actually quite likely. First, even 'normal' voiced speech in
communication is highly dependent on integrated body language.

Second, speech still retains a visual-gestural component, which is why
children learn language face-to-face and not the 'Berlitz' way with
tapes. See also research on the McGurk effect, which indicates just
how important that visual component is in interpreting the phonetic as
the phonological (in the mind's eye of the language perceiver).

Third, the basic unit of speech beneath the word level (but in
phonological control) might be something more like a spoken syllable,
not the phoneme, and the spoken syllable can be correlated not first
with phonetic output but rather visual signalling on the face (and
distinct vowel sounds that form the nucleus of a spoken syllable are
associated with predictable gestures on the face, such as opening and
shape of mouth).

Finally, we can't really say that the visual speech of the deaf is parasitic
upon our spoken language. Rather, they have developed sign language as
human language into a full-blown communicative code which, by the way,
uses the hands and upper body in gesturing, but also the face, and not
just the face, but the articulators which we normally use to make our
speech sound-dominant. So their language in terms of its phonology is
not really so much different from ours except in the degree of
gesturality over phonetic output, though note their limited phonetic
output involves speech gestures. The point being those who are deaf
and those who can hear both use multiple modes of production and
perception to achieve communication (visual, phonetic, kinesthetic).

A fan in Japan

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