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Deaf Bedouins:

Amy Jacques
April 3, 2008

A Sign Language All Its Own

Those who study languages have been quite interested in how languages begin and develop. In a remote portion of the southern desert of Isreal there are a group of Bedouins (Al-Sayyid) (Wikipedia, 2007) that have developed their own sign language and it is unlike any other sign language in the area/world. It is unique.

This group of Bedouins was founded about 200 years ago with one family and at this time has a population of about 3,500 (Sandler, 2005). Since the members of this group marry among their family (cousins), and tend to shun outsiders, the community has been rather isolated from their counterparts in other parts of the country.( Sandler, 2005) The reason for this marriage system is that it keeps the "ownership of the land within the family" (Wikipedia, 2007). There is a trait of inherited deafness among the population and its incidence is much higher in the community because of their isolation than in other populations worldwide. During the past three generations around 150 people with the gene for deafness have been born.( Sandler, 2005)

In the community the members who are deaf are not stigmatized and most of the community knows signing as a second language although some are more proficient than others at signing. (Sandler, 2005). This language has appeared in about the last 70 years or so, and in the first generation had a subject, object, verb order. The language is progressing quite rapidly, so much so that the third generation is signing twice as fast as the first and has much longer sentence structures.( Wikipedia, 2007) The language in its early stages was not as simplistic as researchers had supposed a "new" language would be. The signers could convey ideas that related beyond the "here and now" to include information "about social relations and activities, home construction methods, fertility, national insurance, and even folk remedies that have fallen out of use." The organization the sentence structure is clear as to the "doer of the action", the action itself, and the receiver of the action. (Boswell, 2006). As each successive generation comes along they are adding to the language by introducing new signs and forms. Researchers are going back and studying the second-generation signers (all the members of the first generation, 10 of them, are all deceased) to compare against the third generation. They are also monitoring the following generation's signing to record how the language is changing. (Boswell, 2006). There is a concern that because of marriage and schooling outside the community (a recent turn of events) that this language may not last or continue to thrive. But the contribution to understanding of the evolution of language will not be lost. (Boswell, 2006).


Boswell, S. (2006). Signs from the desert. Retrieved September of 2007 at

Sandler, W., Meir, I., Padden, C., and Aronoff, M. (2005). The emergence of grammar: Systematic structure in a new language. PNAS. Vol. 102(7). pp. 2661-2665.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (2007). Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.  Retrieved September of 2007 at .



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