Talk­ing Hands: What Sign Lan­guage Reveals About the Mind

Mar­galit Fox
  • From the Publisher
June 3, 2014
Imag­ine a vil­lage where every­one speaks” sign lan­guage. Just such a vil­lage — an iso­lat­ed Bedouin com­mu­ni­ty in Israel with an unusu­al­ly high rate of deaf­ness — is at the heart of Talk­ing Hands: What Sign Lan­guage Reveals About the Mind. There, an indige­nous sign lan­guage has sprung up, used by deaf and hear­ing vil­lagers alike. It is a lan­guage no out­sider has been able to decode, until now. 

New York Times reporter trained as a lin­guist, Mar­galit Fox is the only West­ern jour­nal­ist to have set foot in this remark­able vil­lage. In Talk­ing Hands, she fol­lows an inter­na­tion­al team of sci­en­tists that is unrav­el­ing this mys­te­ri­ous language. 

Because the sign lan­guage of the vil­lage has arisen com­plete­ly on its own, out­side the influ­ence of any oth­er lan­guage, it is a liv­ing demon­stra­tion of the lan­guage instinct,” man’s inborn capac­i­ty to cre­ate lan­guage. If the researchers can decode this lan­guage, they will have helped iso­late ingre­di­ents essen­tial to all human lan­guage, signed and spo­ken. But as Talk­ing Hands grip­ping­ly shows, their work in the vil­lage is also a race against time, because the unique lan­guage of the vil­lage may already be endangered. 

Talk­ing Hands offers a fas­ci­nat­ing intro­duc­tion to the signed lan­guages of the world — lan­guages as beau­ti­ful, vital and emphat­i­cal­ly human as any oth­er — explain­ing why they are now fur­nish­ing cog­ni­tive sci­en­tists with long-sought keys to under­stand­ing how lan­guage works in the mind. Writ­ten in lyri­cal, acces­si­ble prose, Talk­ing Hands will cap­ti­vate any­one inter­est­ed in lan­guage, the human mind and jour­neys to exot­ic places.

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