Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language

November 1, 2020
Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language

Most scholarly speculation on the origin of human language hascentered around speech. However, the growing understanding of signlanguages on human development has transformed the debate onlanguage evolution. David F. Armstrong's new book "Show of Hands: ANatural History of Sign Language" casts a wide net in history andgeography to explain how these visible languages have enrichedhuman culture in general and how their study has expanded knowledgeof the human condition.Armstrong addresses the major theories of language evolution,including Noam Chomsky's thesis of an innate human "organ" forlanguage and Steven Pinker's contention that there is language andnot-language without any gradations between gesture and language.This engrossing survey proceeds with William C. Stokoe's revival ofthe early anthropological cognitive-linguistic model of gradualdevelopment through the iconicity of sign languages. Armstrongranges far to reveal the nature of sign languages, from the anatomyof early human ancestors to telling passages by Shakespeare,Dickens, and Pound, to the astute observations of Socrates,Lucretius, and Abbe de l'Epee on sign communication among deafpeople. "Show of Hands" illustrates the remarkable development ofsign languages in isolated Bedouin communities and among Australianindigenous peoples. It also explores the ubiquitous benefits of"Deaf Gain" and visual communication as they dovetail with theInternet and its mushrooming potential for the future.