The roots of linguistic organization in a new language

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It is possible for a language to emerge with no direct linguistic history or outside linguistic influence. Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) arose about 70 years ago in a small, insular community with a high incidence of profound prelingual neurosensory deafness. In ABSL, we have been able to identify the beginnings of phonology, morphology, syntax, and prosody. The linguistic elements we find in ABSL are not exclusively holistic, nor are they all compositional, but a combination of both. We do not, however, find in ABSL certain features that have been posited as essential even for a proto-language. ABSL has a highly regular syntax as well as word-internal compounding, also highly regular but quite distinct from syntax in its patterns. ABSL, however, has no discernable word-internal structure of the kind observed in more mature sign languages: no spatially organized morphology and no evident duality of phonological patterning.


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