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科学美国人60秒:手语展示不同的祖先

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Sign Languages Display Distinct Ancestries

手语展示不同的祖先

More than 140 sign languages are used today, primarily by deaf communities around the world. Like spoken languages, each sign language has its own grammar, vocabulary and other special features.

现在有140多种手语,主要是在世界各地的聋哑人社区使用。和口语一样,每种手语都有自己的语法、词汇和其他特点。

For example, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are mutually unintelligible. In fact, American Sign Language has more in common with French Sign Language, largely because French educators were instrumental in helping get deaf schools established in the United States during the 19th century. But while the lineages and development of spoken languages are well-studied ...

例如,美国手语和英国手语是相互不可理解的。事实上,美国手语与法国手语有更多的共同之处,这主要是因为法国教育家在19世纪帮助美国建立了聋哑学校。但是,尽管人们对口语的谱系和发展进行了深入的研究……

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“There haven’t been a lot of large-scale comparisons of sign languages.”

“目对手语的大规模对比研究目前还不多。”

University of Texas [at] Austin linguist Justin Power. He and his colleagues aim to address that information gap.

德克萨斯大学奥斯汀分校语言学家贾斯汀·鲍尔说道。他和同事们的目标是解决这一信息差距。

“In order to study the question of sign language evolution, we first assembled a database of manual alphabets from dozens of different sign languages around the world. So a manual alphabet is sort of a subsystem within a sign language that is used to represent a written language. So there’s a hand shape that corresponds to each letter.”

“为了研究手语的进化问题,我们首先收集了来自世界各地几十种不同手语的人工字母表。所以手语字母表是手语中的一个子系统用来代表一种书面语言。所以每个字母对应一个手型。”

Power’s team chose to study manual alphabets because a record of them exists going back to the late 16th century in Europe. To uncover relationships between the alphabets, the researchers used the same methods that biologists use to trace relationships between different species, based on their DNA.

鲍尔的团队之所以选择研究人工字母,是因为有记录表明,它们可以追溯到16世纪晚期的欧洲。为了揭示字母之间的关系,研究人员使用了与生物学家根据不同物种的DNA追踪它们之间关系相同的方法。

“The methods grouped sign languages in this study into five main European lineages. And those were Austrian origin, British origin, French origin, Spanish and Swedish.”

在这项研究中,这些方法将手语分为五大欧洲语系,分别是奥地利人、英国人、法国人、西班牙人和瑞典人。”

Power says manual alphabets from Austria, France and Spain could be traced back to one-handed manual alphabets from 16th- and 17th-century Spain. But each of these lineages evolved independently of each other. And the British lineage, which uses a two-handed manual alphabet, eventually made it to Australia, New Zealand and India.

鲍尔说,来自奥地利、法国和西班牙的人工字母可以追溯到16世纪和17世纪西班牙的单手人工字母。但是每一个谱系都是独立进化的。而使用双手手语字母的英国人最终来到了澳大利亚、新西兰和印度。

The study also confirmed the French origins of American Sign Language and those of other countries, including Mexico, Brazil and the Netherlands.

这项研究还证实了美国手语和其他国家手语的法国起源,包括墨西哥、巴西和荷兰。

Surprisingly, the Austrian manual alphabet influenced sign languages as far away as Russia. But while this lineage has largely died out, remnants of it live on in Icelandic Sign Language today.

令人惊讶的是,奥地利手语字母甚至影响了远在俄罗斯的手语。虽然这个世系基本上已经灭绝,但它的残余在今天的冰岛手语中仍然存在。

The study is in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

这项研究发表在《皇家学会开放科学》杂志上。

Power says future research comparing the vocabularies of different sign languages could provide even more clues about how they’ve changed over time.

鲍尔说,未来的研究将比较不同手语的词汇,这可能会提供更多的线索,让我们了解它们是如何随着时间发生变化的。

“Understanding how sign languages evolve would tell us a lot about the way that language, in general, evolves.”

“了解手语是如何进化的,将会告诉我们很多关于语言进化的信息。”

Sign Languages Display Distinct Ancestries

More than 140 sign languages are used today, primarily by deaf communities around the world. Like spoken languages, each sign language has its own grammar, vocabulary and other special features.

For example, American Sign Language and British Sign Language are mutually unintelligible. In fact, American Sign Language has more in common with French Sign Language, largely because French educators were instrumental in helping get deaf schools established in the United States during the 19th century. But while the lineages and development of spoken languages are well-studied ...

“There haven’t been a lot of large-scale comparisons of sign languages.”

University of Texas [at] Austin linguist Justin Power. He and his colleagues aim to address that information gap.

“In order to study the question of sign language evolution, we first assembled a database of manual alphabets from dozens of different sign languages around the world. So a manual alphabet is sort of a subsystem within a sign language that is used to represent a written language. So there’s a hand shape that corresponds to each letter.”

Power’s team chose to study manual alphabets because a record of them exists going back to the late 16th century in Europe. To uncover relationships between the alphabets, the researchers used the same methods that biologists use to trace relationships between different species, based on their DNA.

“The methods grouped sign languages in this study into five main European lineages. And those were Austrian origin, British origin, French origin, Spanish and Swedish.”

Power says manual alphabets from Austria, France and Spain could be traced back to one-handed manual alphabets from 16th- and 17th-century Spain. But each of these lineages evolved independently of each other. And the British lineage, which uses a two-handed manual alphabet, eventually made it to Australia, New Zealand and India.

The study also confirmed the French origins of American Sign Language and those of other countries, including Mexico, Brazil and the Netherlands.

Surprisingly, the Austrian manual alphabet influenced sign languages as far away as Russia. But while this lineage has largely died out, remnants of it live on in Icelandic Sign Language today.

The study is in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Power says future research comparing the vocabularies of different sign languages could provide even more clues about how they’ve changed over time.

“Understanding how sign languages evolve would tell us a lot about the way that language, in general, evolves.”


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