Language, gesture, and ASL again

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 16:28:16 -0500

> Furthermore, the notion that one can teach non-human primates ASL has been
> met
> with some anger and frustration in the deaf community, as it again implies
> that
> their mode of communication (ASL) is in some sense less sophisticated,
> nuanced,
> etc., than oral speech.


I agree that people are sometimes way too imprecise when they talk about what
the non-human hominoids are capable of. People who know what they are talking
about do not claim to able to teach ASL other hominoids. What DOES seen to be
the case is that the use of signs made with the hands gives the chimps/gorillas
a phylogenetically appropriate channel thru which to express what linguistic
ability they do have. They simply don't have the vocal apparatus nor the neural
control over it to produce speech. But they're VERY good with their hands!

The best the chimps and gorillas appear to be able to achieve is a sort of
pre-syntactic "two-word" stage similar to human children approaching the age of
two. They can string a couple of signs together in space and time, but their
utterances seem to lack a heirarchical (sp?) structure. After age two, the
human takes off; the non-humans stay pretty much where they are.

If I were deaf, I'd be pissed too. On the other hand, I did once convince my
lazy high school Spanish students that I could teach my dog (a couple of words
of) Spanish.


Ronald Kephart
Dept of Language & Literature
University of North Florida
Jacksonville, FL USA 32224-2645
Phone: (904) 646-2580