This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
Originally published in 1988, this was the first book-length study ever to be published on the subject of sign language as a means of communication among Australian Aborigines. The work presented in this book filled an important gap in Aboriginal ethnography and linguistics. It also marked a major advance in the understanding of the relationship between medium of expression, code structure and communication; the processes by which spoken language may be represented in a non-vocal medium; and native speaker awareness of spoken language structure. Based on fieldwork conducted over a span of nine years, the volume presents a thorough analysis of the structure of sign languages and their relationship to spoken languages.