The Hidden Historical past of “Hand Speak,” the Native American Signal Language That Predated ASL by Centuries


Nobody particular person can take credit score for the invention of American Signal Language. Its historical past reaches again to the early nineteenth century, when types of signal developed amongst Deaf communities in New England. Early makes an attempt at a signed type of English that replicated phonetic sounds gave option to a pure signal language with no reference to speech, combining types of signal utilized by Deaf communities in New England with LSF (Langue des Signes Française), a French system invented in 1760. By 1835, ASL had change into the normal language of Deaf instruction. 20 years later over 40% of academics had been additionally themselves deaf customers of ASL.

The “origins of the American Deaf-World” — as Harlan Lane, Richard Pillard, and Mary French write in an article for Signal Language Research – has “main roots in a triangle of New England Deaf communities.” Right here, the primary faculty for the Deaf that used ASL was based by Thomas Gallaudet and Laurent Clerc; annual conventions introduced collectively Deaf college students and educators from throughout the nation; periodicals had been based; and, at one time, a Deaf commonwealth was proposed and “debated at size on the 1858 assembly of the New England Gallaudet Affiliation.”

Nevertheless, because the Vox video explainer factors out, there’s one other, far deeper historical past – notably the earlier existence of Indigenous signal languages throughout North America. One type of “Hand Speak” referred to as Plains Indians Signal Language (PISL) represents “one of many oldest languages in North America.” It was not solely a system of signal for the Deaf but in addition operated as a lingua franca amongst totally different language teams. PISL “was the means for commerce,” says PISL educator Lanny Actual Chicken. “It was the means for economics…. Plains Indian Signal Language was the medium for communication of intertribal nations.”

Melanie McKay-Cody, Professor on the College of Arizona and member of the Cherokee Nation West, exhibits how most of the gestures of Hand Speak extra usually — or “North American Indian Signal Language” — may be present in historic rock writing. Hand Speak has regional variations all around the continent, together with a Northeast Indian Signal Language protecting what’s now New England, the higher Midwest, and the Mid-Atlantic. Researchers like McKay-Cody consider that this variant considerably influenced ASL via Native American youngsters pressured to attend the American College for the Deaf, which was then referred to as the American Asylum for Lifeless Mutes.

The video presents compelling proof for North American Indian Signal Language’s affect on ASL, and on American tradition extra usually, together with a 1930 movie of the Indian Signal Language Grand Council, “one of many largest gatherings of intertribal Indigenous leaders ever filmed.” Organized by Normal Hugh L. Scott, the aim of the council was to protect PISL. Involved that “younger males usually are not studying your signal language,” as he signed to the tribal leaders, Scott fearful “it should disappear from this nation.”

It so occurred that ASL itself might need disappeared within the 1870s and 80s when fierce opponents of signal language — referred to as “Oralists” and lead by Alexander Graham Bell — tried to ban ASL and pressure Deaf college students to speak with speech and lip-reading. Graham’s mom was Deaf; his father invented a system of symbols referred to as “Seen Speech” which Graham himself taught at a non-public faculty. Regardless of his efforts, ASL thrived.

As you’ll be taught within the video, nevertheless, Scott and the tribal leaders he gathered had purpose for concern all the best way again in 1930. Few customers of Indigenous signal languages stay after the technology of scholars pressured to assimilate “had been informed,” McKay-Cody says, “that ASL was superior to no matter their Native signal was.”

Associated Content material:

How Ingenious Signal Language Interpreters Are Bringing Music to Life for the Deaf: Visualizing the Sound of Rhythm, Concord & Melody

Native Lands: An Interactive Map Reveals the Indigenous Lands on Which Fashionable Nations Had been Constructed

Evelyn Glennie (a Musician Who Occurs to Be Deaf) Reveals How We Can Hearken to Music with Our Total Our bodies

Josh Jones is a author and musician based mostly in Durham, NC. Comply with him at @jdmagness



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