The gradual emergence of phonological form in a new Language

Wendy Sandler, Mark Aronoff, Irit Meir, Carol Padden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The division of linguistic structure into a meaningless (phonological) level and a meaningful level of morphemes and words is considered a basic design feature of human language. Although established sign languages, like spoken languages, have been shown to be characterized by this bifurcation, no information has been available about the way in which such structure arises. We report here on a newly emerging sign language, Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, which functions as a full language but in which a phonological level of structure has not yet emerged. Early indications of formal regularities provide clues to the way in which phonological structure may develop over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-543
Number of pages41
JournalNatural Language and Linguistic Theory
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements This research was supported by National Institutes of Health grants DC6473 and R01-DC6473, U.S.–Israel Binational Science Foundation grant 200-372, and Israel Science Foundation grant 5433/04. Our thanks to Debbie Menashe and to Meir Etedgi for illustrations of ABSL signs.


  • Duality of patterning
  • Phonology
  • Sign language

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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