November 12, 2005

More about Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language

The New York Times reported on Feb. 1, 2005 about a new sign language developing in the Negev desert of Israel. More recently, New Scientist covered the story as well, in their Oct. 22, 2005 issue.

In A language is born, Michael Erard reports several interesting aspects of the Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (Note: subscription is required, or check your library’s LexisNexis database for the full-text.
). This language developed in isolation and is very different from two nearby sign languages, especially in preferred word order. Rather than being subject-verb-object or verb-subject-object, like Hebrew & Israeli Sign languages or colloquial Arabic (respectively), ASBL is a subject-object-verb.

Some of the linguists from the nearby University of Haifa wonder if this preference suggests an innate linguistic trait. Further, because ASBL is spoken by relatively few people, it isn’t getting the “critical mass” needed to set it to develop more sophisticated patterns. Sadly, the children’s language seem to be influenced by nearby Israeli Sign Language, so ASBL may not tell us how many brains it takes to make a language.

But the possibilities are fascinating. You can read more about it in the The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language, published in the Feb. 7, 2005 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (should be free to all; it’s an open access journal)

No comments: