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Hand Talk


  • 27 b/w illus. 21 tables
  • Page extent: 274 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.56 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 419/.54
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: E98.S5 D38 2010
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Indian sign language
    • Indians of North America--Great Plains

Library of Congress Record


 (ISBN-13: 9780521870108)

American Indian nations of the Great Plains and cultural groups bordering this geographic area spoke so many different languages that verbal communication between them was difficult. As extensive trade networks developed and political alliances became necessary, an elegant language of the hands developed that cut across spoken language barriers. Though now endangered, this sign language continues to serve a vital role in traditional storytelling, rituals, legends, prayers, conversational narratives, and as a primary language of American Indians who are deaf. This volume contains the most current descriptions of all levels of the language from phonology to discourse, as well as comparisons with other sign languages. This is the first work of its kind to be produced in more than a century, and is intended for students of sign language as well as those wishing to learn more about American Indian languages and cultures.

• The first work of this depth and scope produced in more than a century, fills a major gap in the general and research literature • Rare photographs enable readers to view the sign language being described • The accompanying website includes films demonstrating the sign language in action


1. The language landscape; 2. Earliest historical linguistic accounts; 3. A national treasure; 4. Early sign language studies; 5. The spectrum of discourse; 6. The convergence of anthropology and linguistics; 7. Comparative studies of historical relatedness; 8. Linguistic analysis of PISL; 9. Conclusions.


'With its very comprehensive account of the study and structure of Plains Indian Sign Language, with the valuable links that it provides to sign languages used by deaf people and with its accompanying website, this volume is a wonderful and timely resource.' Ceil Lucas, Gallaudet University

'This is not just another book! It is a riveting narrative of an endangered Native American sign language that has served an essential role in Native American culture and life. For sign language studies, Native American studies, linguistics, anthropology, and a host of other allied professionals, as well as for the American public, Jeff Davis has made a momentous professional and social contribution. This is a landmark work that deserves the widest professional and popular audience.' Walt Wolfram, North Carolina State University

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