Cherology or phonology…?

When I was first learning sign language linguistics in school, I was exposed to the terms “cherology” and “chereme”.

To give you definitions: Cherology is “the description and analysis of the distinctive units used in the sign language of the deaf” (TheFreeDictionary), and a chereme is “the basic unit of signed communication” (Wikipedia).

These words were coined by Gallaudet University’s William Stokoe to describe sign language linguistics, but his terminology “has been largely abandoned” (Wikipedia), and the terminology of spoken language linguistics (phonology and phoneme) are used instead, even for signed languages.

I am unsure how I feel about this… I mean sign languages do not use phones (sounds), but gestures that often involve, but are not limited to hands. (Some signs, even in JSL, are entirely non-manual.) Certainly, “cherology” itself a bit of a misnomer since sign languages are about more than just hands. (The “cher-” part comes from the Ancient Greek word χείρ, which means “hand”.) But at the same time, linguistics could also be considered as much of a misnomer, since the “lingu” part of of the word comes from a Latin word meaning “tongue”, and speech is about more than just the physical tongue, right?

Hmm… If I ever get into sign linguistics academically, I’ll have to decide if I’m going to use cherelogy/chereme or phonology/phoneme…  Wonder which I’ll choose.

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One Response to Cherology or phonology…?

  1. Robyn says:

    I’m betting you will choose cherelogy/chereme – you can be quite picky about your words 🙂


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