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Keni

17

signs are followed by one-handed proforms which convey additional information about the noun, usually to do with shape, size or orientationof the object beingdescribed. For example, a single finger is usedtodepict long, thinobjects andmayfollowthe signs for pencil, personor train. Aflat hand (a ‘two-dimensional’ shape) may followthe signs for bed, plate or picture. Acurved, ‘claw’ hand, palmdown(a ‘three-dimensional’ shape)mayfollowthesignsforhouse, rock or cake. Theseproforms demonstrateawayof perceivingform whichis central tothelanguage: thesigner andtheaudience donotjustsee apencil butexperiencethequalitiesof apencil (longandthin). It follows that signs may share particular handshapes if the objects they describe share similar properties –usually properties of shape and size. But signs also have location, orientationandmovementincorporatedinthem. This is one of the fundamental qualities of Sign as a language–it uses space toconveyinformationandtheplacement and movement of signs in space indicate their relationship to each other, a property that the neurologist Oliver Sacks, inhis book, Seeing Voices, terms ‘architectural power’. ToquoteSacks,‘weseethen,in Sign, atevery level–lexical, grammatical, syntactic –alinguisticuseof space: ausethat is amazingly complex, for much of what occurs linearly, sequentially, temporally in speech, becomes simultaneous, concurrent, multileveledinSign.’ Sacks, inhis turn, quotes WilliamStokoe, author of the seminal Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles : ‘Speechhas onlyone dimension–its extensionin time; writinghastwodimensions; modelshavethree; butonly signedlanguages haveattheir disposal four dimensions –the threespatial dimensionsaccessibletoasigner’sbodyaswellas thedimensionof time.’ Theresult of this, says Sacks, is that ‘signed language is not merely proselike and narrative in structure, but essentially cinematic too . . . In a signed

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