26 December 2009

Sign language may be more efficient than spoken language

Almost 40 years ago, researchers discovered that although it takes longer to make signs than to say the equivalent words, on average sentences can be completed in about the same time. How can that be possible?

Today, Andrew Chong and buddies at Princeton University in New Jersey give us the answer. They say that the information content of the 45 handshapes that make up sign language is higher than the information content of phonemes, the building blocks of the spoken word. In other words, there is greater redundancy in spoken English than signed English.

Further details at MIT's Technology Review, via The New Shelton wet/dry.


  1. This is definitely true. Furthermore, babies can learn to sign before they can speak. One thing that depressed me was learning that sign language at one time could have become a universal language but instead there is American sign language and French sign language and Turkish sign language. Sad, isn't it?
    There is a great book on this subject by Oliver Sacks called "Seeing Voices."

  2. I realize that this is a mistake that the original article makes, but there's an important difference between signed English and American Sign Language. ASL has a separate grammar, and is much more efficient than signed English. In ASL, one would say, "me go store," or "go store me" with the article and proposition understood and word order changing depending on context and personal preference. Signed English would include the preposition and article as well as follow the traditional English syntax subject-verb-object and possibly including a marker for present continuous tense: "I am going to the store." Signed English is used generally to aid learning written English, or as a transition to speechreading. Most deaf people who sign use ASL and consider it to be its own separate language.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...