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Re: Some thoughts on mutli-modal (signing / speech) languages and communication.

From:Sai Emrys <saizai@...>
Date:Thursday, February 12, 2009, 7:12
On Wed, Feb 11, 2009 at 10:50 PM, Paul Kershaw <ptkershaw@...> wrote:
> "Sign" is an ambiguous term. In structural linguistics, "sign" basically refers to > any linguistically meaningful unit (i.e., any concrete manifestation paired > predictably with a meaning), regardless of medium. > > This, then, is a terminological disagreement. "Gesture" seems to me to be a > reasonable term to use for any deliberate body movement, whether it be part > of a sign language for the deaf or an element of body language, just as > "articulation" seems a reasonable term for any deliberate oral noise, whether > it be part of a spoken language or a grunt, gulp, or sigh. > > I disagree with you, for that matter, that such a strong distinction ought to > be made between gestures that are part of a meaningful, robust system and > gestures which are signs (in the structural sense) but which do not belong to > a robust system, such as rubbing the thumb against the fingers to indicate > money or holding the middle finger up in isolation. Those gestures certainly > have predictable meaning, and the connection between the gesture and the > meaning is arbitrary. In my view, that makes them (structuralist) signs, even > if they're not part of a "sign language."
Fair enough. Perhaps I'm here being influenced by the cultural literature I've read (a la Edward T Hall) more than the linguistic. I agree there's certainly some potential for ambiguous situations; e.g. it's hard to say when an ASL usage of North American "mere gestures" turns into use of "borrowed signs" or yet "nativized signs". - Sai