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Languages, Natural

  • By: Julie A. Hochgesang
  • In: The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia
  • Edited by: Genie Gertz & Patrick Boudreault
  • Subject:Physical Disabilities, Otorhinolaryngology (Ears, Nose, & Throat)

In the last few decades, it has been demonstrated repeatedly by scores of researchers that signed languages are natural human languages, just like their spoken counterparts. These researchers work with signed languages that “naturally” emerge from communities of Deaf people. There are three relevant questions/aspects to using the term natural here. First, what does it mean to call a language natural, as opposed to other systems? Second, what does it mean when a language “naturally” emerges from a community? Third, what characteristics are typical of a natural language?

Natural Systems as Opposed to Other Kinds of Systems

Linguists use certain criteria, known as design features, to differentiate natural human languages like American Sign Language, Hong Kong Sign Language, and Spanish Sign Language from animal communication systems as ...

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