Publication details [#11358]

Wilcox, Sherman. 2008. Sign and gesture: Towards a new paradigm In Cienki, Alan and Cornelia Müller. Metaphor and Gesture. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. pp. 273–275. 3 pp.
Publication type
Article in book  
Publication language
Place, Publisher
Amsterdam: John Benjamins


or too many years, decades in fact, gesture has been a taboo word among signed language researchers. While the scholarly world was discovering the significance of gesture and demonstrating the undeniable fact that gesture is linked socially, psychologically, and neurologically with language, signed language linguists were stuck in a backwater eddy, denying the obvious: there is a natural link between signs and gestures. It is not too difficult to see why sign linguists were so gun-shy about gesture. For centuries, the common understanding was that signed languages were not languages. They were simply gestures used by people who, because they could not hear, could not acquire or use the only true human means of expressing language - speech. In fact, for most of history language and speech were so confounded that it was impossible to tell the difference. Speech was synonymous with language. Gesture was not language. Fortunately, the theoretical currents have changed. Sign researchers have begun to explore the gesture-language interface and to discover what it reveals about the nature and development of language. Linguists, at least some, are no longer quite so certain that there is a categorical distinction between gesture and language. The latter conceptual shift can be attributed directly to the pioneering work of David McNeill, whose 1985 article in 'Psychological Review' boldly and directly challenged the received wisdom: "So you think gestures are nonverbal?" Once linguists and others were able to include gestures and speech within a unified conceptual framework as aspects of a single underlying process (McNeill, 1990), it demanded that signed language linguists re-examine the relation between sign and gesture: in short, to embrace a paradigm shift in how signed languages are viewed. (Sherman Wilcox)