Talk:Warlpiri Sign Language

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Seperate language or signed mode of Warlpiri?[edit]

Thanks Dougg for expanding this stub. Your edits imply an answer to something I've been wondering about; namely, what is the relationship between spoken Warlpiri and Warlpiri Sign Language? I put this ref on the page but haven't had a chance to read it: KENDON A. 1988. Parallels and divergences between Warlpiri sign language and spoken Warlpiri: analyses of signed and spoken discourses. Oceania, 58, p. 239-54.

I was under the impression that WSL was close enough in grammar (and word-for-sign correspondence) to be called a signed mode of Warlpiri rather than another language. This would make the the comparison with Auslan etc misleading, and would make WSL more like a Manually Coded Language than a deaf sign language. I think that Plains Indian Sign Language is an example of a hearing community producing a fairly elaborate sign language which is not based on a spoken language, so it is entirely possible WSL is indeed a seperate language. Can you clarify this for me? Cheers, ntennis 00:33, 9 January 2006 (UTC)

Hi, that's a very good point and one I didn't put enough (any?) thought into when writing. The point I had in mind in making the comparison with Auslan (and saying it has become highly elaborated) is that WSL is a full language in that it can be used to express anything that the speaker wants to, unlike the sign languages used by (e.g.) Western Desert Language speakers. I'll check asap and get back to you. Dougg 04:48, 10 January 2006 (UTC)
Ok, got the article, looks like your impressions were largely correct. Kendon (1988) says that there's a close correspondence between words and signs such that lexical morphemes will be expressed by a single sign, and signs are ordered the same as words in spoken Warlpiri. Even preverb-verb formations in the spoken language '...are commonly matched by compound signs that correspond to the morphological structure of the spoken form.' However, 'Markers of case relations, tense, and cliticized pronouns are not signed.' Kendon says that this supports the view that WSL is not a fully autonomous system but is '...built up as gestural representations of the semantic units provided by the spoken language.' So, the article needs to be changed to make this clear. I'd like to retain the point I make in my previous comment, though (that WSL is a complete communication system, as opposed to the other sign languages of Central Australia). I'm not sure when I'll have time to make the changes though, so go ahead if you want to. Dougg 05:21, 10 January 2006 (UTC)

Thankyou very much for finding that information! Very timely too, as I am just putting together the Manually Coded Languages page and it is a really interesting example of a MCL that presumably pre-dates those of Europe. I am not at university, and getting access to references not available on the internet can be tricky, so *mwah* to u! I'll update the page soon. -- ntennis 05:29, 10 January 2006 (UTC)

Would you like the article? I can send you it to you (it's a scanned .pdf) if you like. BTW, my inner pedant gets a bit twitchy when people assume that something Aboriginal people do now must have be something they've always done. It's not necessarily the case that Warlpiri Sign Language 'predates' European sign languages as, for all we know, it may only have arisen in the last couple of centuries. It is true however that it arises from an entirely separate tradition than the European MCLs. Dougg 22:58, 10 January 2006 (UTC)

A copy of the article would be fabulous. I'll email you with my email address. Of course, you are right about the age of WSL; it was speculation on my part. Indigenous sign systems are so widespread in Australia that it seemed to me that they must have been around for more than 250 years. For example, Walter Roth noted signing in north Queensland in 1908, and Berndt wrote "Notes on the sign-language of the Jaralde tribe of the Lower River Murray, South Australia," in 1940. You have inspired me to go to a library and get edumacated. :) ntennis 00:59, 11 January 2006 (UTC)

While it's probably true that there have been signing systems around for a very long time, WSL is different (and as far as I know has no parallel in any other Australian language though I'll have to check Kendon's book on this) as it is a complete language, i.e. it can be used to express anything that any other language can. The other signing systems are simple and can only convey a limited range of ideas; they're used mainly in hunting, across a distance/crowd or in situations when silence is required. The special situation with Warlpiri is that widows are required to be silent for a lengthy mourning period, which is the presumed reason for the sign language having become a true language. But if, say, this mourning period silence was a relatively recent tradition, then it could well be that WSL is also relatively recent. I don't know of any other peoples (at least, anywhere in the vicinity of the Warlpiri) who have such a tradition. Dougg 04:32, 11 January 2006 (UTC)