What an emerging language can tell us about language evolution

Prof. dr. Mark Aronoff

Stony Brook University, USA

Abstract

Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) is the sign language of a small, insular, endogamous community in the Negev desert with a high incidence of genetically recessive profound neurosensory deafness. The first deaf individuals were born about 75 years ago and the number of deaf members of the community now numbers over 100 (in a population of about 3500). ABSL appears to have developed with little or no influence from either neighboring sign languages or the surrounding spoken languages; it is widely used in the community, with at least as many hearing as deaf users; and neither the language nor the deaf signers are stigmatized in the community. For several years, a team of linguists from Israel and the United States has been analyzing the structure of ABSL. Prof. Aronoff will review their work to date, discuss the linguistic structure of ABSL and the implications of their findings for current theories of the nature and evolution of human language.