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  1. Sign languages are one of the natural human languages

There are two kinds of natural languages humanities use to communicate. One is spoken languages used by hearing people and the other is sign languages used by the Deaf. Spoken languages are languages produced and perceived by auditory organs, and Sign languages are languages produced and perceived by visual organs. The features of nature human language are that, no matter which language it is, using a system of limited symbols and a set of rules (grammars) to express infinity concepts. After the start of the researches of natural sign languages in the USA in 1960s, researches of sign languages have become an important research subject in the field of Linguistics, Psychology, Cognitive Science, Deaf Education, etc.

 Except for the natural sign languages Deaf uses, in order to train and enhance the reading and writing ability of the written language of the Hearing-impaired, nations and countries create signed languages based on their written languages. Most of the vocabularies in these kinds of artificial sign languages come from their natural sign languages but follow the grammars and word orders of their written language. That is, signed language presents itself by using the vocabularies in natural sign language yet following word order of the written language. For example, Signed English (手語英文), Signed Chinese (手語中文, also called “文法手語” in Taiwan). In Taiwan, linguists study the structure of the nature sign languages; yet special educators focus more on the formulating and using of signed languages.

  1. The importance of sign linguistics

Just as spoken languages, sign languages are human nature languages and have its unique grammatical structure. They are not attached to spoken languages or written languages. By digging into the structure of sign languages, we could understand the structure of human languages more comprehensively. Only then can the human language structure be understand in-depth and comprehensively, and the linguistic theory can be comprehensive and sophisticated.

One of the most important issues in linguistic researches is to explore the commonality of human languages. By studying the communication pattern of spoken languages and sign languages, which crosses two modalities, more commonalities among languages are found. Moreover, understand more the interaction between languages and cognition, and the relationship between languages and brain cognitive nervous system. Therefore, Linguistic studies should incorporate sign languages into the scope of the research.   

At present, Taiwan’s linguistic research has covered Chinese, Southern Min, Hakka, and Austronesia languages (Taiwan aboriginal language), etc. However, these languages are all spoken languages using “auditory and phonetic” to communicate. Currently there is only National Chung Cheng University engages in the study of sign linguistics, researching communication through visions and movements (including hand movements, limbs and expressions) in Taiwan.

  1. Sign linguistics at National Chung Cheng University, Taiwan

The importance of sign linguistics is as mentioned above. The research of sign linguistics in Taiwan was started by Wayne Smith in the 1980s studying the natural sign language used by Taiwan Deaf people. Since 2001, Professor Tai and Professor Tsay have started National Science Council Research Project continued for 14 years. They not only collected corpus of natural sign language systematically and continuously, but also analyze and compare them with sign languages in other countries. Taking sign linguistics as theory base and analyze the grammar of TSL (including phonology, morphology, vocabularies and semantics, etc.). By doing these, we can learn more about the commonalities and differences and have a further understanding to the nature and evolution of human language.

  1. Establish an international academic exchange platform

Recently, at the invitation of three important international presses, Professor Tai and Professor Tasy wrote three articles introducing Taiwan’s natural sign language, which has brought the research of Taiwan Sign Language to the world.

The research team of sign linguistics of Chung Cheng University has possessed a leading position in the country. In order to bring Taiwan’s research of sign linguistics internationally, and to compare them with sign linguistics studies around the world, the Taiwan Center for Sign Linguistics was found in 2016. This has also provided a platform for international exchange of sign linguistics.

The establishment of this research center will be based on the linguistic research of Taiwan sign language, and further promote the research and application of sign linguistics. Therefore, not only will Chung Cheng University lead the research of sign linguistics in the country, but also become an international academic exchange platform which does the research of the comparison between sign linguistics around the world.

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