The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language

Wendy Sandler, Irit Meir, Carol Padden, Mark Aronoff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This report contains a linguistic description of a language created spontaneously without any apparent external influence in a stable existing community. We describe the syntactic structure of Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, a language that has arisen in the last 70 years in an isolated endogamous community with a high incidence of nonsyndromic, genetically recessive, profound prelingual neurosensory deafness. In the space of one generation from its inception, systematic grammatical structure has emerged in the language. Going beyond a conventionalized list of words for actions, objects, people, characteristics, and so on, a systematic way of marking the grammatical relations among those elements has appeared in the form of highly regular word order. These systematic structures cannot be attributed to influence from other languages, because the particular word orders that appear in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language differ from those found both in the ambient spoken languages in the community and in the other sign language found predominantly in the surrounding area. Therefore, the emerging grammatical structures should be regarded as an independent development within the language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2661-2665
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2005


  • Language genesis
  • Sign language
  • Word order

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


Dive into the research topics of 'The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this