Our team is assembled of four researchers: Wendy Sandler, Irit Meir, Mark Aronoff, and myself. We've been working together for several years now studying this new sign language: Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language (ABSL) in Israel. By studying ABSL, we hope to understand the origins of language: how it develops and spreads through populations and across generations.
ABSL is an unique opportunity. We know that there are no new spoken languages worldwide because hearing children are immediately exposed to language at birth. However, we have found new sign languages in different parts of the world.
How did ABSL arise? About 75 years ago, A Bedouin family had four deaf children. They communicated with one other using home sign. These four siblings later had their own families, and others had deaf children as well, and their original home sign spread across the generations.
Now there are about 150 deaf people in this village of 4,000. The hearing people here speak Arabic, and the deaf and hearing people both use this special sign language from this village. We know it began 75 years ago, so we can study what signs and structures appeared first. Then we look at the second and third generations to examine how ABSL has evolved--how separate signs combine to make sentences and how communication strategies have developed over time.
Now our goal here is to watch this process and discover which elements of sign build what we call "language." We're not the only team studying new sign languages; there are other teams worldwide studying home sign and village sign languages. It's all part of a new field in linguistics where we can study new sign languages that are only 30 or 50 years old, and compare those with older sign languages such as American Sign Language which is at least 200 years old.
Please see http://communication.ucsd.edu/cpadden.