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Al Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language: Emergence of linguistic form in a new sign language

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While all extant spoken languages are thousands of years old or descended from old languages, only sign languages can be born at any time, allowing researchers a glimpse of human language in its most essential form.  Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) arose spontaneously a mere 80 years ago in a stable existing community in southern Israel with a high incidence of genetically transmitted deafness – well over 130 of the 4,000 villagers are deaf. The language continues to be used by deaf and hearing people, offering the research team an opportunity to chart its development over time.  Investigations by researchers Wendy Sandler and Irit Meir (University of Haifa), Carol Padden (University of California San Diego/CRL), and Mark Aronoff (SUNY-Stony Brook) reveal how a language begins, and how it slowly but surely accrues linguistic structure.

The team has created a Dictionary of Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language with 300 entries, and including a brief history of the village and its earliest signs, as told by Saleh Al-Sayyid.  Click to read the Introduction to the dictionary in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

Story of the history of the Al-Sayyid Bedouins, told by one of the first deaf signers of their language 


Science. 2016. How sign languages evolve

New York Magazine Science of Us 2016

Nautilus. 2014. The unusual language that linguists thought couldn’t exist

The New York Times, Ha’aretz , Discover Magazine

Talking Hands, a book for a general readership by New York Times writer Margalit Fox

Press (Hebrew):

דה מרקר



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MA theses:

  • Israel, Assaf (2009). Sublexical variation in three sign languages. MA thesis. University of Haifa.
  • Tkachman, Oksana (2013). The basic noun-verb distinction in two young sign languages. MA thesis. University of Haifa.