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Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind
Synopses & Reviews
Imagine a village where everyone "speaks" sign language. Just such a village — an isolated Bedouin community in Israel with an unusually high rate of deafness — is at the heart of Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind. There, an indigenous sign language has sprung up, used by deaf and hearing villagers alike. It is a language no outsider has been able to decode, until now.
A New York Times reporter trained as a linguist, Margalit Fox is the only Western journalist to have set foot in this remarkable village. In Talking Hands, she follows an international team of scientists that is unraveling this mysterious language.
Because the sign language of the village has arisen completely on its own, outside the influence of any other language, it is a living demonstration of the "language instinct," man's inborn capacity to create language. If the researchers can decode this language, they will have helped isolate ingredients essential to all human language, signed and spoken. But as Talking Hands grippingly shows, their work in the village is also a race against time, because the unique language of the village may already be endangered.
Talking Hands offers a fascinating introduction to the signed languages of the world — languages as beautiful, vital and emphatically human as any other — explaining why they are now furnishing cognitive scientists with long-sought keys to understanding how language works in the mind.
Written in lyrical, accessible prose, Talking Hands will captivate anyone interested in language, the human mind and journeys to exotic places.
"'The world of sign languages and cognitive research comes to life in this story of a remote Israeli village that's become a test bed for understanding how the human brain processes language. New York Times reporter Fox follows researchers, led by University of Haifa professor Wendy Sandler, to the Bedouin village of Al-Sayyid, where isolation, genetics and inbreeding have led to a higher than usual percentage of deafness in the population. In response, the villagers have created a home-brew sign language used by both the hearing and deaf. By studying this unique language, Sandler and her cohort hope to gain deeper insight into how the brain acquires and uses language. Chapters alternate between the painstaking work in Al-Sayyid and a history of sign language itself. Both are gracefully reinforced with vivid examples, from the early insistence of 'experts' that proper sign language must produce words in one-to-one correspondence with spoken language to a lively gathering in Al-Sayyid where conversation flows freely in six languages: English, Hebrew, Arabic, American Sign Language, Israeli Sign Language and the local sign language. Fox takes readers on a fascinating tour of deaf communication, clearly explaining difficult concepts, and effortlessly introducing readers to a silent world where communication is anything but slow and awkward.' Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"In Al-Sayyid, a remote Israeli village, many of the Bedouin inhabitants are deaf from an inherited condition. They and their hearing families have developed a sign language that everyone in the village has used for generations. However, as more and more of the village's children are educated in Israeli schools, they are learning Israeli signs. Linguists are hurrying to study the Al-Sayyid system to... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) discover what it reveals about the human instinct for communication — before the village's indigenous language disappears. In 'Talking Hands' (which publishes on Aug. 21), Margalit Fox, a reporter with the New York Times, alternates between describing the work of an international team of linguists she accompanied to the village and discussing the theories and history of sign language. She chronicles the deaf community that used to live on Martha's Vineyard, the influence of Gallaudet University and the differences between American Sign Language and other sign languages. Fox explains each of her linguistic terms thoroughly, but the jargon can grow tedious for readers unused to 'entity classifiers' and 'endpoints of spatial verbs.' The story of Al-Sayyid is fascinating, nonetheless. 'After years of careful scrutiny,' writes Fox, 'the linguists can truly say of this language in the desert, In the beginning was the word.' Eliza McGraw is a writer living in Washington, D.C." Reviewed by lan Coopermanlan Coopermanlan Coopermanlan CoopermanJonathan YardleyJon MeachamSimon Sebag MontefioreStephen AmidonGary KristEliza McGrawEliza McGrawEliza McGrawEliza McGraw, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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Table of Contents
1. In the Village of the Deaf
2. "What Is This Wonderful Language?"
3. The Road to Al-Sayyid
4. The Sign-Language Instinct
5. Starry Night
6. The Atoms of Sign
7. The House of Blue Roses
8. Everyone Here Speaks Sign Language
10. The Web of Words
11. The House Built from the Second Story Down
12. Grammar in Midair
13. Hassan's House
14. A Sign in Mind
15. The House of Twenty Children
16. The Signing Brain
17. In a Wet Place
Afterword: It Takes a Village
A Note on Sources
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