In most lan­guages, sounds can be re-arranged into any num­ber of com­bi­na­tions. Not so in Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Lan­guage. Lan­guages, like human bod­ies, come in a vari­ety of shapes — but only to a point. Just as peo­ple don’t sprout mul­ti­ple heads, lan­guages tend to veer away from cer­tain that might from an imag­i­na­tive mind . For exam­ple, one core prop­er­ty of human lan­guages is known as dual­i­ty of pat­tern­ing : mean­ing­ful lin­guis­tic units (such as words) break down into small­er mean­ing­less units (sounds), so that the words sap , pass , and asp involve dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of the same sounds, even though their mean­ings are com­plete­ly unre­lat­ed. It’s not hard to imag­ine that things could been oth­er­wise. In prin­ci­ple, we could a lan­guage in sounds relate holis­ti­cal­ly to their mean­ings — a high-pitched yowl might mean “fin­ger,” a gut­tur­al purr might mean “dark,” a yodel might mean “broc­coli,” and so on. But there are stark advan­tages to dual­i­ty of pat­tern­ing. invent­ing a lex­i­con of tens of thou­sands of dis­tinct nois­es, all of are eas­i­ly dis­tin­guished, and you will prob­a­bly wish­ing you could sim­ply re-use a few snip­pets of sound in vary­ing arrange­ments. The […]