by Faith Ekart | 29 September 21
Sign language has been around for a really long time. People don’t know exactly when it started, but people have been using types of sign language since the beginning of time. Just like how babies use hand signals to communicate before they can talk, that’s what deaf people have done before sign language was created. Before sign language was invented, Aristotle stated that it was impossible to teach a deaf person, so everyone believed deaf people couldn’t learn. This was a really hard time for deaf people because they were constantly viewed as lesser. For example, they weren’t allowed to get married and have children because people were worried deafness was hereditary so they didn’t want it to continue to be passed down. Plus, they were denied certain citizenship and religious rights. In fact there was segregation a lot with white and black deaf kids in schools. Black deaf kids couldn’t attend classes with white deaf kids, even though they were learning the same things in the same school. This kept on until John Beverly taught a deaf boy to speak, although instead of people changing their beliefs on teaching deaf people, everyone just thought this was a miracle and continued to follow Aristotle’s original theory. Eventually, more and more people began to make hand gestures that meant certain things for deaf people to sign to communicate, so basically they were teaching forms of sign language. The first sign language book was published in 1620. This began changing people’s views because deaf people were actually learning and successfully communicating.
Sign language started in France and it’s strongly rooted in the French language, American Sign Language stems from Old French Sign Language, which was invented by French people. Since it started there, the first public sign language school was founded in France in 1755. There, they translated the whole French alphabet into hand signals and into a sign language dictionary. Quite a few different deaf schools had been starting up in France, so in the 1800s Thomas Gallaudet started the first American Sign Language school in Connecticut in America. He was inspired to start it because his neighbor’s daughter was deaf and he really wanted to help her and others like her learn how to communicate. So he visited lots of French deaf schools and started creating American Sign Language which was unique to the English language. There are different sign languages for each language. Sign languages are different from the actual language though, with all the different grammar and rules that go into it. In 1965 William Stokoe published the book Sign Language Structure which helped a lot of people with learning sign language and all the components of it (grammar, signs, facial expressions, etc.). After this happened sign language has evolved so much. It’s gone from a broken and simplified version of English to a new complex language of its own. What American Sign Language is now is the result of over 195 years of deaf families passing signs down from generation to generation.
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