William Stokoe

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William C. Stokoe, Jr.
William C Stokoe Jr.tif
William Stokoe, 1993
Born (1919-07-21)July 21, 1919
New Hampshire, USA
Died April 4, 2000(2000-04-04) (aged 80)
Chevy Chase, Maryland, USA
Fields English, American Sign Language (ASL)
Institutions Wells College, Gallaudet University
Alma mater Cornell University (Ph.D., 1946)
Known for Stokoe notation

William C. Stokoe, Jr. (/ˈstk/ STOH-kee; New Hampshire, July 21, 1919 – Chevy Chase, Maryland, April 4, 2000) was a scholar who researched American Sign Language (ASL) extensively while he worked at Gallaudet University. He coined the term cherology, the equivalent of phonology for sign language. However, sign language linguists, of which he may have been the first, now generally use the term "phonology" for signed languages.

Stokoe graduated from Cornell University in Ithaca, NY in 1941, from where in 1946 he earned his Ph.D. in English, specifically medieval literature.[1] From there, he became an instructor of English at Wells College in Aurora, NY.[2]

From 1955 to 1970 he served as a professor and chairman of the English department at Gallaudet University, after being recruited to the position by Dean George Detmold.[3] He published Sign Language Structure (1960)[4] and co-authored A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (1965).[5] The latter was the first place the term American Sign Language was ever formally used.[6] He also started the academic journal Sign Language Studies in 1972, which he edited until 1996.[7] Stokoe's final book, Language in Hand, was published in 2001, after his death.

Though the relationship between Stokoe and Gallaudet was not always one of complete support (Gallaudet closed his Linguistics Research Laboratory, wherein he carried out the studies that would lead him to declare ASL a fully formed and legitimate language, in 1984, after he retired), the university awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1988.[8][9]

Through the publication of his work, he was instrumental in changing the perception of ASL from that of a broken or simplified version of English to that of a complex and thriving natural language in its own right with an independent syntax and grammar as functional and powerful as any found in the oral languages of the world.[10][11] Because he raised the prestige of ASL in academic and educational circles, he is considered a hero in the Deaf community.

Writing system for American Sign Language[edit]

Stokoe invented a written notation for sign language (now called Stokoe notation) as ASL had no written form at the time. Unlike SignWriting, which was developed later, it is not pictographic, but drew heavily on the Latin alphabet.

Thus the written form of the sign for 'mother' looks like

 ͜ 5x  

The ' ͜ ' indicates that it is signed at the chin, the '5' that is uses a spread hand (the '5' of ASL), and the 'x' that the thumb touches the chin. Stokoe coined the terms tab, dez, and sig, meaning sign location, handshape and motion, to indicate different categories of phonemes in ASL. The Stokoe notation system has been used for other sign languages, but is mostly restricted to linguists and academics.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Fox, Margalit (2007). Talking Hands. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. p. 92. ISBN 0743247132. 
  2. ^ "William C. Stokoe". Gupress.gallaudet.edu. 2000-05-04. Retrieved 2012-09-10. 
  3. ^ Garretson, Merv. 2010. My Yesterdays, Xlibris, p. 119.
  4. ^ Stokoe, William C. 1960. Sign Language Structure: An Outline of the Visual Communication Systems of the American Deaf, Studies in linguistics: Occasional papers (No. 8). Buffalo: Dept. of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.
  5. ^ Stokoe, William C.; Dorothy C. Casterline; Carl G. Croneberg. 1965. A dictionary of American sign languages on linguistic principles. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet College Press
  6. ^ Fox, Margalit (2007). Talking Hands. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. p. 109. ISBN 0743247132. 
  7. ^ http://gupress.gallaudet.edu/stokoe.html
  8. ^ Fox, Margalit (2007). Talking Hands. Simon and Schuster Paperbacks. pp. 109–110. ISBN 0743247132. 
  9. ^ http://gupress.gallaudet.edu/stokoe.html
  10. ^ Gannon, Jack. 1981. Deaf Heritage–A Narrative History of Deaf America, Silver Spring, MD: National Association of the Deaf, pp. 364, 365, 367 (PDF)(PDF)
  11. ^ Barnes, Bart. 1979. Hands Full of Words: Exploring the Riches of Sign Language. The Washington Post. District Weekly section (March 29, 1979), pp. DC1, DC10.

References[edit]

External links[edit]