12-21-11, 06:44 AM
I got to thinking: Does the American Sign Language have a formal study of etymology? I was thinking of the "Crazy" sign (finger swirl around ear). Where does that originate from?
When I was a kid someone told me it was "Mexican" ... which may be correct as sign language may originate as cultural gestures which could be "Mexican" as opposed to Latin or Spanish. But, now I think this was a reference to Speedy Gonzales.
12-21-11, 09:22 AM
I got to thinking: Does the American Sign Language have a formal study of etymology?I haven't found any information on the origin of the world's many sign languages for the deaf, or the etymology of specific signs. The majority of them are called "natural" languages, which means that they were developed by their people as a community (the deaf themselves, their families and others who communicate with them), incrementally and out of necessity, very much like oral languages. They were not developed by scientists or other academics like Esperanto, Interlingua, Cobol and Java.
Remembering that literacy was not common until recently, early sign languages did not necessarily have strong relationships to the spoken languages of the surrounding community.
As the printing press made literacy nearly universal, more recently constructed sign languages were indeed crafted by "experts." But even today they do not translate on a word-for-word basis, often lacking grammatical inflections and "noise words" like articles and (IMHO) prepositions, and their grammar and syntax are distinctly different from spoken languages.
Although ASL is not used in the UK, it is used in a great many non-anglophone countries such as China, Haiti, Malaysia and El Savador.
I was thinking of the "Crazy" sign (finger swirl around ear). Where does that originate from?Spoken language is one of our species's key technologies. Its invention prompted a quantum improvement in our ability to plan and organize, to transfer knowledge accurately from one person to another or to many others, and to pass it on to subsequent generations. Many linguists are betting that if we ever find a way to determine its date of invention, it will turn out to be shortly before mankind's first successful migration out of Africa ca. 60KYA, and prove to be the key resource that finally allowed a colony of humans to prosper in this alien environment.
Spoken language dominates our thoughts. The etymology of spoken symbols is a major academic specialty and a common frivolous interest among laymen, and there are whole books full of etymologies in various languages.
Non-spoken symbols, on the other hand? We appear to not be nearly as interested in them. Historical references to them are rather rare, such as "Do you bite your thumb at me, sir?"--"No sir. I do not bite my thumb at you, sir. But I do bite my thumb, sir" in Romeo and Juliet. With these exceptions, most of the hypothetical origins of gestures are strictly hypothetical. We know that smiling and several other expressions are instinctive and universal--although not all, since some cultures nod "yes" and "no" just the opposite of our way. The various gestures for "f*** you" seem to be vaguely anatomical references.
But for the "crazy" sign, I have no idea.
When I was a kid someone told me it was "Mexican" ... which may be correct as sign language may originate as cultural gestures which could be "Mexican" as opposed to Latin or Spanish.Indeed. England and the USA developed their sign languages independently. As noted, some of the Spanish-speaking countries use ASL instead of a Spanish-based system.
But, now I think this was a reference to Speedy Gonzales.I was ten in 1953 when Speedy Gonzales (an American misspelling, it's González in proper Spanish) debuted. I wasn't a big fan of those cartoons so I didn't even realize that they used the revolving-finger "crazy" sign. And in any case I can't remember if people were using it in real life before then.