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date: 30 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Over the past 150 years, linguists have moved from considering sign languages as a primitive and universal type of gestural communication to a recognition that sign languages are complete, natural human languages. However, this recognition has gone through a number of stages. At first, linguists emphasized the similarities between sign languages and spoken languages, despite the differences in modality. More recent studies have turned to an exploration of the similarities and differences among sign languages, and between signed and spoken languages. Most importantly, this research has led linguists to a reconsideration of such issues as the effect of modality on linguistic structure, the nature of linguistic universals, and the roles of arbitrariness and iconicity. This chapter reviews the history of linguistic research on sign language, concluding with a consideration of the implications of recent approaches for our understanding of sign languages and of the nature of human languages.

Keywords: modality, arbitrariness, iconicity, evolution of language, typology

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