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The Signs of Language

The Signs of Language

Edited by Edward Klima and Ursula Bellugi

ISBN 9780674807969

Publication date: 10/15/1988

In a book with far-reaching implications, Edward S. Klima and Ursula Bellugi present a full exploration of a language in another mode—a language of the hands and of the eyes. They discuss the origin and development of American Sign Language, the internal structure of its basic units, the grammatical processes it employs, and its heightened use in poetry and wit. The authors draw on research, much of it by and with deaf people, to answer the crucial question of what is fundamental to language as language and what is determined by the mode (vocal or gestural) in which a language is produced.


  • A most evocative book… [It] is no guide to the learning of the sign language itself, but it is one to understanding it as an independent flowering of the capacity we call language. That is a treasure richer than speech, sign or ideograph, the springs of both art and science. It is worth mention that for the many sequential drawings and diagrams needed to make the flow of sign understandable on the static page the authors have themselves evolved a small visual language of symbol: an entire set of spiraling, swelling and dwindling arrows bridging their scenes. The two hemispheres of the brain are plainly cooperating in this study!

    —Philip Morrison, Scientific American


  • Edward Klima was Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of California, San Diego, and Associate Director of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
  • Ursula Bellugi is Director of the Laboratory for Language Studies at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.

Book Details

  • 432 pages
  • 6-1/4 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press