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The Gestural Origin of Language$
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David F. Armstrong and Sherman E. Wilcox

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780195163483

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195163483.001.0001

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Vision to Voice

(p.3) Prologue
The Gestural Origin of Language

David F. Armstrong

Sherman E. Wilcox

Oxford University Press

This prologue begins with a description of an old thought experiment. The experiment imagines a situation where twenty-four human infants, twelve males and twelve females, are raised in a setting without any face-to-face interaction with or communication from anyone other than their own experimental peers. It is argued that the children's initial attempts to communicate would involve pointing to and touching or otherwise manipulating the other children and objects in their environment. This claim is reinforced by the experience of people who have tried to communicate with people whose language they don't know. In such circumstances, people often resort to pointing and pantomime to communicate. However, deaf people who encounter other deaf people from foreign countries are able to negotiate a visual code that results in basic communication. This is interesting since the signed languages of the deaf are quite diverse and not mutually comprehensible, and just as complex grammatically as spoken languages.

Keywords:   thought experiment, communication, pointing, sign language, deaf people

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