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Talking Hands

What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind

by Margalit Fox

Talking Hands by Margalit Fox X
Talking Hands by Margalit Fox
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2007, 368 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2008, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lee Gooden
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Talking Hands will captivate anyone interested in language, the human mind and journeys to exotic places

On a page after the Table of Contents, without any other text, Fox includes the following quote, from Ludwig Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations*, "To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life."

Entering my twentieth year as one who works with people with developmental disabilities I can personally attest to the truth of this quote. Although not professionally trained in sign language, over the years I have learned to distinguish and use signs that are appropriate to the situation (just as children growing up in the hearing world learn that there are some words that they use among their friends and others to their parents). Because of my background, I initially approached Talking Hands as a reference book that would improve my own job performance. I am ashamed to admit that I opened the book with a degree of pomposity, thinking that after two decades I knew it all; but I found Talking Hands to be an exhilarating and humbling experience, showing my sign language skills, not to mention my knowledge of other languages (including English) to be insignificant in comparison to Fox and her fellow linguistic colleagues.

Talking Hands, which alternates chapters on specific aspects of linguistics and sign language with chapters set in an isolated Bedouin village with its own unique form of sign language, is a fascinating read for linguists and lay readers alike.

The interleaved chapters on specific aspects of linguistics are vital to the structure of the overall narrative and provide necessary clarification, although some readers may find themselves skipping through a few parts. When writing about the Bedouin village of Al-Sayyid (Al-Sayyid’s location remains a secret and the names of its occupants have been changed to protect the villagers' anonymity) Fox's writing is both accessible and poetic. It is easy for the reader to share her excitement when she describes the receptiveness of the villagers to outsiders and their ready acceptance of the linguistics team's much repeated tests.

*Philosophical Investigations, Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's classic on the philosophies of the mind, language and meaning, was first published in 1953.

Guest review by Lee Gooden.

Reviewed by Lee Gooden

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2007, and has been updated for the August 2008 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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