Sign Language - History of Sign Language

Sign Language

The appearance of Deaf culture in the current media is increasing at a rapid pace, with new scripted and reality television shows being constantly developed. These shows portray life as a member of the Deaf community, and depict the intricacies of communication through Sign Language.

The first indication of a Deaf language came from the 5th century BCE, when Socrates wrote "If we hadn't a voice or a tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn't we try to make signs by moving our hands, head, and the rest of our body...?". However, at this time, and for many millennia to come, communication by Deaf peoples was limited to gesturing. For thousands of years the Deaf community was considered to be unintelligent, and resources were not used to educate them.

This all changed in the 1600s, when Geronimo Cardano, an Italian physician, began to persuade the masses that Deaf people were intelligent, and could be taught using images and photos, rather than words. This led the first publication on sign language by Juan Pablo de Bonet in 1620. For the next 100 years, this novel concept spread throughout the world, and in 1755 Abbe Charles L'Eppe built the first sign language school in Paris. He went on to develop many of the characteristics that define the language today, including the addition of fingerspelling, and representing entire phrases with the use of one gesture.

After the development of the first school, other such schools began construction, including one in Hartford, Connecticut. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, who had studied Sign Language at the school in Paris, completed the American School for the Deaf in 1817. Today this school stands strong as an education force for Deaf and hard-of-hearing students all over the world.

Two colleges for the Deaf are currently in operation in the United States. Gallaudet University and the National Technical Institute for the Deaf are responsible for educating a few thousands students each year. Other Deaf colleges are present in countries like Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. However, sign languages between countries are just as varied as oral languages, supporting different grammar, syntax, and vocabulary. Today, the world has a much greater respect and understanding for Deaf culture and language, and this respect has led to a superior and more accurate representation of the culture in today's society.

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