Sign language is the way of communication for those who cannot speak or hear. No one can really claim as to who actually came up with the novel idea of sign language. Many cultures have had an influence on the formation of this language, which does not have any words. Let us delve into the past, and try to figure out how the system may have evolved.
History of Sign Language
Sign language had been used as a form of communication since time immemorial. Yet, over the centuries, some people have played a significant role in the development of rules, which form the basis of today's sign language,
The Cave Man
The earliest humans, known commonly as the cave men, did not use words to covey what they wanted to say. They used signs and sounds, in order to make their point. Similarly, body language was also used. Thus, the ancient humans communicated in some sort of a sign language. Owing to the fact that sign language, as a mechanism of communication, has always been in use since antiquity, it is highly impossible to assign a single inventor for the same.
In 1620, Juan Pablo Bonet became the first person to create a book on sign language. He recorded the symbolic hand shapes that represented different sounds. But, Pablo is not the inventor of sign language alphabets, as these had already been in use since a long time, and all Pablo did was to catalog them in a book.
l'Abbé Charles Michel de l'Épée, in 1771, opened the first 'free public school' for the deaf, where he taught sign language. Reportedly, most students of the school came from Martha's Vineyard, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, which had a high incidence of deafness for about 250 years.
l'Épée observed the deaf children, and came up with some standardized hand signs, gestures, and finger spellings. This standard system, later, officially became recognized as the language for the deaf in France, as well as Europe.
Development of Sign Language in America
Sign language arrived in America with the efforts of two men. Laurent Clerc and Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet opened the first American school for the deaf, in 1817, after about 45 years of L'Epee's school in Paris. It was located in Hartford, Connecticut.
The children, attending the school came from all over the country. Apart from the already standardized French method, many more methods were integrated into the school's program. This helped in the creation of American Sign Language. Yet, many argue that the American Sign Language alphabets were greatly influenced by the Martha's Vineyard, as Clerc brought the system from Europe to America.
These early influences and contributions led to the establishment of the sign language, the world over. It can indeed be said that the language, as we know it today, is the result of the efforts of numerous people, all of whom should be credited for its development.