SASL Newsletter - Summer 2018 Issue Issue 10 - Summer 2018 - Page 11

By Samuel J. Supalla Citation Zeshan, U. (2002). Towards a notion of ‘word’ in sign languages. In R. Dixon & A. Aikhenvald (Eds.), Word: A cross-linguistic typology (pp. 153-179). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Abstract The question whether all languages have words may look like a nonsense question to many people, the universal existence of words being regarded as a truism in itself. Even though it is widely acknowledged that finding a strictly satisfying definition of ‘word’ is as difficult as defining similarly universal terms such as ‘sentence’ or ‘language’, the existence of words in all languages is not usually questioned. As with all putative language universals, probing the validity of the claim depends crucially on looking at languages that are as ‘different’ as possible. If many otherwise very ‘different’ languages share a certain feature, it is more likely that this feature is a true universal than if only ‘similar’ languages are considered. The motivation for looking at the concept of ‘word’ in sign languages lies exactly here: for what could be more ‘different’ than a sign language? As Anderson (1982: 91) puts it: ‘Comparison of spoken and signed languages can be especially valuable because the parallels are so surprising at first, and seem so automatic and natural after we have worked with them. The challenge of finding these parallels produces important insights into the nature of human language in general. So we can often learn more by studying a sign language than by studying one more spoken language.’ This is of course not to ignore that modality-related differences between signed and spoken language can be just as revealing as the parallels between the two. (10 ¾ minutes long) The Power of ASL 11 Summer 2018 – Issue 10