September 18, 2004
The invention of a new language

Further evidence of what children are capable of learning for themselves.

Literacy has to be taught, but the ability to use, and if necessary to invent, language is inborn. But, you have to do it young, or it doesn't work. Old people do not invent new languages.

Scientists have witnessed the birth of a new language, one invented by deaf children.

A study published today shows that a sign language that emerged over two decades ago now counts as a true language.

It began in a school for the deaf in Managua, Nicaragua, founded in 1977. With instruction only in lip-reading and speaking Spanish, neither very successful, and no exposure to adult signing, the children were left to their own devices.

Their first pantomime-like gestures evolved into a grammar of increasing complexity as new children learned the signs and elaborated. Now it has a formal name: Nicaraguan Sign Language, (NSL), and is so distinct that it would not be understood by American and British signers.

David Carr comments at Samizdata.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:27 AM
Category: LanguagesLearning by doing