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Deaf around the WorldThe Impact of Language$
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Gaurav Mathur and Donna Jo Napoli

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780199732548

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199732548.001.0001

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Gesture First or Speech First in Language Origins?

Gesture First or Speech First in Language Origins?

(p.251) Chapter 7 Response Gesture First or Speech First in Language Origins?
Deaf around the World

Adam Kendon

Oxford University Press

After an overview of the debate about whether spoken or sign language came first, the author challenges its founding assumption, that languages are monomodalic, by reporting on a study of Italians describing events. People matched kinesic expressions to word meaning and produced kinesic versions of word pronunciations, using gestures as schematic devices when describing entities’ shape, location, and size. Language, then, can be constructed in multiple dimensions and modalities simultaneously. Sign languages are, thus, not unique in being able to express multiple propositions at once. The author conjectures that writing has skewed our idea of how spoken language works, since writing is concatenative. Probably the earliest languages were multimodal, as today, making use of whatever fit the circumstance and convenience.

Keywords:   sign language linguistics, gesture, language evolution, Italian, language modality, kinesic expressions

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