John D. Bonvillian

Associate Professor - Emeritus

Office Address

018 Gilmer Hall


 In recent years, our research group has been working to develop a simplified, manual, sign-communication system.  The initial focus of this project was to develop a sign communication system for mute or severely speech-limited individuals, such as children with autistic disorder, Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy.  At present, we have developed a simplified sign system lexicon consisting of 1100 easily formed, highly iconic signs or gestures.  Over a year ago, we changed our research focus slightly to develop more one-handed simplified signs; this change was undertaken to meet the communication needs of individuals who are hemiplegic.  Beginning in the fall of 2012, we are making a determined effort to greatly expand the size of our simplified sign system lexicon.  This increase in the size of our sign vocabulary is being undertaken to meet the needs of students who want to use our simplified signs to facilitate their acquisition of foreign language vocabulary items.  By pairing our highly iconic simplified signs with to-be-learned foreign language vocabulary items,  students are able to get these items into their memories more quickly and effectively.
In another project, several students are examining the use of manual communication in the exploration of the New World.  Although historians very rarely mention the use of signs by European explorers and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, careful review of historical documents, such as the diaries or journals of explorers, shows that much of the communication in initial encounter situations was through manual signs and gestures.  The use of manual signs, moreover, appears to have been quite wide-spread among the native peoples of North America through the 1800s.  Our analyses are underlining the importance of manual communication in the exploration and settlement of the New World.   

  • Bonvillian, J. D., Ingram, V. L., & McCleary, B. M. (2009).  Observations on the use of manual signs and gestures in the communicative interactions between Native Americansand Spanish explorers of North America: The accounts of Bernal Díaz del Castillo and Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca.  Sign Language Studies, 9, 132-165.
  • Bonvillian, J. D. (2010).  American Sign Language.  Encyclopedia of perception, Vol. I (pp. 40-41)  E. B. Goldstein (Ed.).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  • Bohannon, J.N., III, & Bonvillian, J.D. (2013). Theoretical approaches to language acquisition. In J.B. Gleason and N.B. Ratner (Eds.), The development of language (8th ed.,  pp.190-240). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Bonvillian, J. D., Kissane, N. A., Dooley, T. T., and F. T. Loncke.  Simplified signs: A manual sign-communication system for special populations.  Vol. 1: Principles,  background and applications. Contract extended from Gallaudet University Press,  Washington, D.C.
  • Bonvillian, J. D. Kissane, N.A., Dooley, T.T., & Lonke, F.T. Simplified Signs: A manual sign  communication system for special populations. Vol. 2: Sign descriptions and illustrations. Contract extended from Gallaudet University Press, Washington, DC.