Sign Language Humor, Human Singularities, and the Origins of Language

Donna Jo Napoli and Rachel Sutton-Spence

in Deaf around the World

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199732548
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199866359 | DOI:
Sign Language Humor, Human Singularities, and the Origins of Language

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This chapter offers evidence consistent with the proposal that sign languages preceded spoken languages in the evolution of language. Using conceptual integration theory, the authors argue that what may be considered “just a funny story in British Sign Language” contains the human singularities needed to create novel mappings and compressions between pre-existing conventional cognitive parts and conventionally structured cognitive parts that make up human language. While it is arguable that spoken language could do without analogy, framing, and the like (though it would be vastly impoverished), it is entirely impossible for sign language to do so. Thus the fact that these human singularities emerged at roughly the same time as language makes sense if the first human language was signed.

Keywords: sign language linguistics; British Sign Language; language evolution; Conceptual Integration Theory; human singularities; cognitive linguistics

Chapter.  8649 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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