Because signs like those meaning “to write” or “to hammer” resemble the action described, many people view sign language as simply elaborate mimicry.
But anyone who has ever created a poem in sign language, or struggled to remember a sign that was just on the tips of the fingers would argue it’s much more.
Karen Emmorey seconds that argument. Her ongoing study of sign language identifies which elements of human language are universal, and which are particular to spoken or signed languages.
A professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, Emmorey came to SDSU in 2005 to direct the Laboratory for Language & Cognitive Neuroscience. Her work shows that sign language is not a comprehensive set of gestures, but a viable language produced and comprehended in the same areas of the brain as spoken language.
Emmorey hopes her research leads to greater endorsement of sign language in the medical community.
“It would be nice if doctors who recommended cochlear implants also recommended sign language exposure, because research suggests that if you don’t get early language, whether it’s speech or sign, there are later problems with understanding language and cognition.”
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