William Stokoe

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William C. Stokoe, Jr. (pronounced /ˈstoʊkiː/ STOH-kee; New Hampshire, 21 July 1919 – Chevy Chase (Maryland), 4 April 2000) was a scholar who researched American Sign Language (ASL) extensively while he worked at Gallaudet University. He coined the term cherology, the equivalent of phonology for sign language (but sign language linguists, of which he may have been the first, now generally use the term "phonology").

From 1955 to 1970 he served as a professor and chairman of the English department at Gallaudet. He published Sign Language Structure[1] and co-authored A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles (1965).

Through the publication of his work he was instrumental in changing the perception of ASL from that of a broken or simplified version of English to that of a complex and thriving natural language in its own right with an independent syntax and grammar as functional and powerful as any found in the spoken languages of the world. Because he raised the prestige of ASL in academic and educational circles, he is considered a hero in the Deaf community.


Writing system for American Sign Language

Stokoe invented a written notation for sign language (now called Stokoe notation) as ASL had no written form at the time. Unlike SignWriting, which was developed later, it is not pictographic, but drew heavily on the Latin alphabet.

Thus the written form of the sign for 'mother' looks like

The ' ͜ ' indicates that it is signed at the chin, the '5' that is uses a spread hand (the '5' of ASL), and the 'x' that the thumb touches the chin. Stokoe coined the terms tab, dez, and sig, meaning sign location, handshape and motion, to indicate different categories of phonemes in ASL. The Stokoe notation system has been used for other sign languages, but is mostly restricted to linguists and academics.


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