Dedicated gestures and the emergence of sign language

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Sign languages make use of the two hands, facial features, the head, and the body to produce multifaceted gestures that are dedicated for linguistic functions. In a newly emerging sign language - Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language - the appearance of dedicated gestures in signers of four age groups or strata reveals that recruitment of gesture for language is a gradual process. Starting with only the hands in Stratum I, each additional articulator is recruited to perform grammatical functions as the language matures, resulting in ever increasing grammatical complexity. The emergence of dedicated gesture in a new language provides a novel context for addressing questions about the relationship between the physical transmission system and grammar and about the emergence of linguistic complexity in human language generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-307
Number of pages43
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Thanks to my ABSL colleagues Carol Padden, Mark Aronoff, and Irit Meir for their input. I also wish to thank Adam Kendon for helpful comments and suggestions. The paper benefitted from remarks and questions from participants in ISGS 2012 in Lund as well. The work on ABSL has been funded by the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation and by U.S. National Institutes of Health grant No. R01 DC006473.


  • Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language
  • Gesture
  • Language complexity
  • Language emergence
  • Prosody
  • Sign language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


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