Institut Jean Nicod

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Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow

(University of Chicago)


The LINGUAE group and the IJN Sign Language Group are happy to announce that Professor Susan Goldin-Meadow (University of Chicago) will give two talks next December 16 and 17.

If you plan to attend, please send an e-mail to before November 25th. Interpreting into LSF will be provided upon request. The request should be made by November 25th.

Details of the talks:
Title: Gesture as a mechanism of change
Location: ENS, rue d’Ulm 45, Salle Cavaillès (50 places)
When: Tuesday, December 16th, 10h30

Title: From homesign to sign language:  Creating language in the manual modality
Location: ENS, rue d’Ulm 45, Salle Becket (30 places)
When: Wednesday, December 17th, 11h30

Gesture as a mechanism of change

The spontaneous gestures that people produce when they talk can index cognitive instability and reflect thoughts not yet found in speech. But gesture can go beyond reflecting thought to play a role in changing thought.  I consider whether gesture brings about change because it is itself an action and thus brings action into our mental representations.  I provide evidence for this hypothesis but suggest that it's not the whole story.  Gesture is a special kind of action––it is representational and thus more abstract than direct action on objects, which may be what allows gesture to play a role in learning.

From homesign to sign language:  Creating language in the manual modality

Imagine a child who has never seen or heard any language at all.  Would such a child be able to invent a language on her own?  Despite what one might guess, the answer to this question is "yes".  I describe congenitally deaf children who cannot learn the spoken language that surrounds them, and have not yet been exposed to sign language, either by their hearing parents or their oral schools.  Nevertheless the children use their hands to communicate––they gesture––and those gestures, called homesigns, take on many of the forms and functions of language.  I first describe the properties of language that we find in homesign. I next consider properties of language that homesigners can and cannot develop by comparing their linguistic systems to those developed by deaf individuals in Nicaragua. Forty years ago large numbers of homesigners were brought together for the first time and Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL) was born; NSL continues to develop as new waves of children enter the community and learn to sign from older peers. I end by taking an experimental approach to when gesture does and does not take on linguistic properties.  I examine hearing individuals asked not to speak and instead communicate using only their hands. Although these silent gesturers can create some properties of language on the spot, they do not create all of the properties that homesigners develop over time.