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History of Sign Language

Puja Lalwani Apr 20, 2019
The sign language is a thing of wonder for many. We come across individuals who interact via this language and are usually so synchronized and seem dramatic , while conveying the perfect message to each-other. Let the credentials roll for those individuals who made this possible.
Sign language is a wonderful aid for those who have suffered hearing loss.
As the name itself suggests, sign language is a language that uses complex hand movements as a way of communication with the hearing impaired and their family. It is as effective as any oral language as it has its own, well laid out grammar and phonology rules.
Apart from the hands, even body movements and positions, and facial expressions comprise the intricacies of the sign language. Here's a look into the origin of sign language and some facts about it.

History of Sign Language

The history dates back to the 1500s, where an Italian physician called Geronimo Cardano began educating his deaf son with the sign language. Later, a Spanish monk called Juan Pablo de Bonet was inspired to create a language to educate the deaf.
He thus created his own version of the manual alphabet, which became well-known in which a variety of speech-sounds-expressions, were depicted by different hand movements.
However, it was only in the mid-eighteenth century that sign language began to be imparted by means of organized education. The credit for consolidating the education of sign language goes to Abbe Charles Michel de L'Epee, now known as the 'Father of Sign Language', a French priest, who dedicated his life to deaf education through sign language.
He went on to establish 21 schools for the deaf, and taught them French through sign language. Thus, the present day sign language contains some traces of the French sign language. This has also been incorporated in the creation of the American Sign Language (ASL), which is now the most thoroughly developed and widely accepted form of sign language.
Sign language had to put up a tough fight to survive as a mode of communication among other modes of communication, mainly oralism. Created by Samuel Heinicke, the theory behind oralism was that for any human being to learn a language, it is important to understand oral speech and also its interpretation.
This was done through different methods that included speech reading, and teaching the various nuances of speech to the deaf. This theory gained the respect and attention of several proponents of deaf education, and turned into a battle against the education of the deaf through sign language.
Many deaf education experts, one of whom was the notable Alexander Graham Bell, wished to eliminate the sign language completely. However, though oralism gained popularity among the experts, the common deaf man preferred to use sign language outside the school premises, which helped maintain the presence of sign language in the life of the deaf and mute.
Finally, a consensus was achieved when a popular movement in the 1970s aimed to create total communication by combining different modes of deaf education into one method. This included lip reading, pantomime, finger spelling, sign language including various other modes.

Facts About Sign Language

After gaining information about the history of sign language, you can now look at some interesting sign language facts.
  • For those who are deaf, sign language is their first language, in most countries.
  • However, sign language is not the only mode of communication for the deaf. There are other ways for them to communicate.
  • There is a difference in the sign language followed by different countries. For instance, American Sign Language (ASL) differs from British Sign Language (BSL) in several ways. Even though some movements in different sign languages could be the same, they could imply different meanings.
  • Not only is sign language used for basic communication, even emotions such as sarcasm, jokes, and poetry, can be expressed and created through sign language.
  • The sign language can be best taught by the deaf.
  • You must understand that learning sign language is as good as learning any foreign language, like Spanish or French.
It is very interesting to know the various events that have contributed to the rich history of sign language. We would have never imagined that the sign language that is now taken for granted as a part of communication for the hearing and speech impaired, had to fight a long battle for its survival.