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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Feb 15;102(7):2661-5. Epub 2005 Feb 7.

The emergence of grammar: systematic structure in a new language.

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  • 1Department of English Language and Literature, University of Haifa, 31905 Haifa, Israel.


This report contains a linguistic description of a language created spontaneously without any apparent external influence in a stable existing community. We describe the syntactic structure of Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language, a language that has arisen in the last 70 years in an isolated endogamous community with a high incidence of nonsyndromic, genetically recessive, profound prelingual neurosensory deafness. In the space of one generation from its inception, systematic grammatical structure has emerged in the language. Going beyond a conventionalized list of words for actions, objects, people, characteristics, and so on, a systematic way of marking the grammatical relations among those elements has appeared in the form of highly regular word order. These systematic structures cannot be attributed to influence from other languages, because the particular word orders that appear in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language differ from those found both in the ambient spoken languages in the community and in the other sign language found predominantly in the surrounding area. Therefore, the emerging grammatical structures should be regarded as an independent development within the language.

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