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Exposition of the grammatical structure of sign language

Patrick Sibanda


Many people hardly believe that sign language is a fully fledged language. Some people mistakenly think that sign language is oral language conveyed through signs while some think that it is a manual code of English for instance. They think that it is a type of pantomime (exaggerated set of signs) rather than a real language. There are also misconceptions among the public that sign language can only be used to express concrete information and that it is universal. Signs in a sign language have been regarded simply as unanalysable iconic gestures with little or no internal organisation at all. To the contrary, linguistic research has however demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that sign languages of the world are fully fledged languages with their own formal grammatical structures and well established lexicons. William Stokoe (1960) was the first researcher to demonstrate that signs of a sign language have an internal sub lexical structure analogous to that found in words of spoken languages. Thus, sign language is comparable to spoken language both in terms of complexity and expressiveness. It is not a manual rendition of oral language, but an independent formal language in its own right. In addition, sign language is not universal, but just like in the case of oral/spoken languages which are spoken by different people in different countries, deaf people around the world sign different sign languages. The sign language grammatical structure subscribes to the same linguistic rules enjoyed by oral language.


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