On April 8, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln and the United States Congress put into effect legislation authorizing the granting of collegiate degrees by the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind. At this moment, what became Gallaudet University began a century and a half of offering a collegiate liberal arts education to deaf and hard of hearing students. Featuring more than 250 photographs and illustrations, David F. Armstrong’s The History of Gallaudet University: 150 Years of a Deaf American Institution chronicles its development into a modern, comprehensive American university.
At first a tiny college of fewer than 200 students, Gallaudet’s growth paralleled the emergence of the American Deaf Community and the history of the nation in general. In the same way that the country’s land-grant universities brought higher education to more American students than ever before, Gallaudet offered the same opportunities to deaf students for the first time. Gallaudet mirrored other institutions in addressing major issues of the time, from legislated segregation to the Civil Rights movement that inspired the struggle by deaf people to gain control of the governance of their university. Most critically, this volume details poignantly the evolution of American Sign Language as a language of scholarship at Gallaudet during a time when its use in educational institutions was largely discouraged or prohibited. Through story and image, it traces the historic path that Gallaudet traveled to be recognized as the finest institution of higher education for deaf people in the world.
Most scholarly speculation on the origin of human language has centered around speech. However, the growing understanding of sign languages on human development has transformed the debate on language evolution. David F. Armstrong’s new book Show of Hands: A Natural History of Sign Language casts a wide net in history and geography to explain how these visible languages have enriched human culture in general and how their study has expanded knowledge of the human condition.
Armstrong addresses the major theories of language evolution, including Noam Chomsky’s thesis of an innate human “organ” for language and Steven Pinker’s contention that there is language and not-language without any gradations between gesture and language. This engrossing survey proceeds with William C. Stokoe’s revival of the early anthropological cognitive-linguistic model of gradual development through the iconicity of sign languages. Armstrong ranges far to reveal the nature of sign languages, from the anatomy of early human ancestors to telling passages by Shakespeare, Dickens, and Pound, to the astute observations of Socrates, Lucretius, and Abbé de l’Epée on sign communication among deaf people. Show of Hands illustrates the remarkable development of sign languages in isolated Bedouin communities and among Australian indigenous peoples. It also explores the ubiquitous benefits of “Deaf Gain” and visual communication as they dovetail with the Internet and its mushrooming potential for the future.
In 1999, many of today's notable researchers assembled at a special conference in honor of William C. Stokoe to explore the remarkable research that grew out of his original insights on American Sign Language. The Study of Signed Languages presents the fascinating findings from that conference.
Part 1, Historical Perspectives, begins with a description of the decline of sign language studies in the 1800s. Past research on signed languages and its relationship to language origins theory follows, along with a consideration of modality and conflicting agendas for its study.
In Part 2, Language Origins, the first entry intrigues with the possibility that sign language could answer conundrums posed by Noam Chomsky's linguistic theories. The next essay considers how to build a better language model by citing continuity, ethology, and Stokoe's work as key elements. Stokoe's own research on the gestural theory of language origins is examined in the section's closing chapter.
Part 3, Diverse Populations, delineates the impact of sign language research on black deaf communities in America, on deaf education, on research into variation in sign language, and even on sign communication and the motor functioning of autistic children and others. In its wide-ranging, brilliant scholarship, The Study of Signed Languages serves as a fitting tribute to William C. Stokoe and his work.
Royalties from this title will be contributed to the William C. Stokoe Chair of Ethnographic Studies in Deaf Language and Culture fund at Gallaudet University, Washington, D.C.
David F. Armstrong is an anthropologist and Professor of Administration at Gallaudet University.
Michael A. Karchmer is Professor in the Department of Educational Foundations and Research and Director of the Gallaudet Research Institute at Gallaudet University.
John Vickrey Van Cleve is Professor of History at Gallaudet University.