LINGUIST List 7.1830

Wed Dec 25 1996

Disc: Signed-lg

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Sherman Wilcox, Re: 7.1757, Qs: Invented Languages, Dative shift, Contact info

Message 1: Re: 7.1757, Qs: Invented Languages, Dative shift, Contact info

Date: Fri, 13 Dec 96 15:27:59 -0700
From: Sherman Wilcox <>
Subject: Re: 7.1757, Qs: Invented Languages, Dative shift, Contact info

>I am putting together a reading list for an independent study
>course on invented languages, including Esperanto, sign language,
>twinspeak, and some science fiction efforts such as Klingon. 

I'm concerned that the discussion has placed "sign language" in a 
broad category that has been labelled "invented language". 

It is a common misconception that signed languages are invented. They are 
not. They are natural languages in precisely the same sense that English, 
German, or Navajo are. No one person, no committee, invented "sign 
language" any more than we can point to the inventor of Spanish.

In fact, it is probably best not to use the term "sign language" since it 
is ambiguous. I prefer to use the term "signed language" for the 
category, analogous to "spoken languages". When referring to a specific 
language, it is best to name the language -- American Sign Language, 
Catalan Sign Language, Japanese Sign Language, and so forth.

I also must admit to some concern about considering cases such as 
Esperanto and Klingon (!) in the same light as twinspeak. While some may 
say that these are all cases of "invented" languages, surely the 
differences far outweigh the similarities. Perhaps that is the point of 
your reading list -- but by placing signed languages, which are not 
invented languages, in the same category, it makes me question whether 
you understand the other differences as well. 

Having said that, you may want to contact my colleague, Jill Morford 
( for more information about homesign.

Sherman Wilcox
Associate Professor
Dept. of Linguistics
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131

505-277-6353 (v/tty)
505-277-6355 (fax)
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