Sign has become a scientific hot button. Only in thepast 20 years have specialists in language studyrealized that signed languages are unique—a speechof the hand. They offer a new way to probe how thebrain generates and understands language, andthrow new light on an old scientific controversy:whether language,complete with grammar, issomething that we are born With, or whether it is alearned behavior. The current interest in sign language has roots in the pioneering work of onerebel teacher at Gallaudet University in Washington, D. C., the world’s only liberal artsuniversity for deaf people.
When Bill Stokoe went to Gallaudet to teach English, the school enrolled him in a course insigning. But Stokoe noticed something odd: among themselves, students signed differentlyfrom his classroom teacher.
Stokoe had been taught a sort of gestural code, each movement of the hands representing aword in English.At the time, American Sign Language (ASL) was thought to be no more than aform of pidgin English (混杂英语). But Stokoe believed the “hand talk”his students used lookedricher. He wondered: Might deaf people actually: have a genuine language? And could thatlanguage be unlike any other on Earth? It was 1955, wheneven deaf people dismissed theirsigning as“substandard”. Stokoe’s idea was academic heresy (异端邪说).
It is 37 years later. Stokoe—now devoting his time to writing and editing books and journalsand to producing video materials on ASL and the deaf culture—is having lunch at a cafe nearthe Gallaudet campus and explaining how he started a revolution. For decades educatorsfought his idea that signed languages are natural languages like English, French and Japanese.They assumed language must be based on speech, the modulation (调节) of sound. But signlanguage is based on the movement of hands, the modulation of space. “What I said,” Stokoeexplains, “is that language is not mouth stuff—it’s brain stuff.”
Choose correct answers to the question:
1. The study of sign language is thought to be ________.
A. a new way to look at the learning of language
B. a challenge to traditional, views on the nature of language
C. an approach: to simplifying the grammatical structure of a language
D. an attempt to clarify misunderstanding about the origin of language
2. The present growing interest in sign language was stimulated by ______
A. a famous scholar in the study of the human brain
B. a leading specialist in the study of liberal arts
C. an English teacher in a university for the deaf
D. some senior experts in American Sign Language
3. According to Stokoe, sign language is ________.
A. a Substandard language
B. a genuine language
C. an artificial language
D. an international language
4. Most educators objected to Stokoe’s idea because they thought ________.
A. sign language was not extensively used even by deaf people
B. sign language was too artificial to be widely accepted
C. a language should be easy to use and understand
D. a language could only exist in the form of speech sounds
5. Stokoe’s argument is based on his belief that ________.
A. sign language is as efficient as any other language
B. sign language is derived from natural language
C. language is a system of meaningful codes
D. language is a product of the brain