Using hand gestures and body language is one of the oldest and most basic forms of communication.
Learn how these simple movements evolved into the many forms of formal sign language used today by deaf communities all around the globe.
Early Forms of Sign Language
Sign language is one of the earliest and most basic forms of human communication. You use signs when you wave hello or point to something you want and you use body language to emphasize an idea. Sign language, in the deaf community, is a form of visual language that uses hand gestures and body language to convey meaning.We can find many examples of people using visual gestures to express themselves long before a formal sign language was established. Native Americans utilized simple hand signs to communicate with other tribes and to facilitate trade with Europeans. Early settlers of Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast, carried the genes for deafness.
Since this island was separated from the mainland, the trait quickly spread among the inhabitants and a large deaf population was established. A regional sign language developed so that the deaf could communicate with each other as well as with the hearing residents.
The Birth of Formal Sign Language
Even though the early steps in creating an official language for the deaf were taken in Spain, the first formal sign language was actually developed in France. Charles Michel de l’Eppe, a French priest, was an early and ardent advocate for deaf rights. In 1755, he established the original public school for deaf children, the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets ; Paris (National Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris). This was the first systematic and organized approach to the education of the deaf and it led to l’Epee being referred to as the ‘Father of the Deaf.
‘ The students came to the institute from all over the country and they brought with them signs that they had used to communicate at home. l’Eppe adapted these signs along with a manual alphabet and created a sign language dictionary. This standardized sign language is now referred to as Old French Sign Language and quickly spread across Europe and to the United States.
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