The Creation of Sign Language
This week marks British Sign Language week in England, and what better time to rediscover the history and creation of sign language?
If you’ve kept up with our previous blogs on the histories of language, you’ll probably notice that there’s rarely a definitive answer on ‘who’ creates a language, and the same can be said for signing. Our oldest ancestors likely used a version of sign language by gesturing, such as pointing and beckoning. Sign systems were in use throughout the world much earlier than you would think, the evidence of which dates back to the 1400’s where an Amazon tribe were seen communicating between each other and neighbouring tribes. However, until the 18th Century the deaf and dumb were widely considered to be unintelligent and incapable of language, which is probably why there were not any widely-used or popularised sign language systems.
The very first true sign language that was widely used was the Old French Sign Language, used initially by the deaf on the streets of France, but popularised by Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée, whom started a deaf school in 1760, but made his teachings available to the public; Laurent Clerc, a graduate and former teacher in de l'Épée’s school, went to the United States with Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet to create the American School for the Deaf at Hartford – fully formed sign languages would start to appear around the globe from there on.
Happy British Sign Language week to all our customers and colleagues!
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