UC San Diego SearchMenu
Carol Padden

How does a language start?

The Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language serves as an alternative language of a community of about 3,500 deaf and hearing people in Israel's Negev Desert.

Carol Padden, with colleagues from the University of Haifa and Stony Brook University, published an analysis of ABSL in 2005 – that PNAS paper was the first linguistic analysis of a language arising naturally with no outside influence. "Because ABSL developed independently, it may reflect fundamental properties of language in general," Padden said. The research supports the notion, for example, that languages can and do evolve quickly.

The finding was widely reported in national and international press. And in 2008 New York Times reporter Margalit Fox chronicled her travels with the research team in a book titled "Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals About the Mind."

MacArthur "Genius"

Ph.D. graduate of Linguistics, Padden now is on the faculty of Communication at UC San Diego and an affiliate of the Center for Research in Language. When selected as a 2010 recipient of the prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, she was cited for "illuminating the unique structure and evolution of sign languages and the specific social implications of signed communication."

Deaf culture

Together with husband Tom Humphries of Education Studies and Communication, she has published two textbooks on American Sign Language and two ground-breaking books on Deaf culture – "Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture" (1988) and "Inside Deaf Culture" (2005).

Learn more