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Use By Modern Actors and Orators – Sign Language

Less of practical value can be learned of sign language, considered as a system, from the study of gestures of actors and orators than would appear without reflection. The pantomimist who uses no words whatever is obliged to avail himself of every natural or imagined connection between thought and gesture, and, depending wholly on the latter, makes himself intelligible. On the stage and the rostrum words are the main reliance, and gestures generally serve for rhythmic movement and to display personal grace. At the most they give the appropriate representation of the general idea expressed by the words, but do not attempt to indicate the idea itself. An instance is recorded of the addition of significance to gesture when it is employed by the gesturer, himself silent, to accompany words used by another. Livius Andronicus, being hoarse, obtained permission to have his part sung by another actor while he continued to make the gestures, and he did so with much greater effect than before, as Livy, the historian, explains, because he was not impeded by the exertion of the voice; but the correct explanation probably is, because his attention was directed to ideas, not mere words. Gestures of Actors To look at the performance of a play through thick glass or with closed ears has much the same absurd effect that is produced by also stopping the ears while at a ball and watching the apparently objectless capering of the dancers, without the aid of musical accompaniment. Diderot, in his Lettre sur les sourds muets, gives his experience as follows: I used frequently to attend the theater and I...

Some Theories Upon Primitive Language – Sign Language

Cresollius, writing in 1620, was strongly in favor of giving precedence to gesture. He says, “Man, full of wisdom and divinity, could have appeared nothing superior to a naked trunk or block had he not been adorned with the hand as the interpreter and messenger of his thoughts.” He quotes with approval the brother of St. Basil in declaring that had men been formed without hands they would never have been endowed with an articulate voice, and concludes: “Since, then, nature has furnished us with two instruments for the purpose of bringing into light and expressing the silent affections of the mind, language and the hand, it has been the opinion of learned and intelligent men that the former would be maimed and nearly useless without the latter; whereas the hand, without the aid of language, has produced many and wonderful effects.” Rabelais, who incorporated into his satirical work much true learning and philosophy, makes his hero announce the following opinion: Nothing less, quoth Pantagruel [Book iii, ch. xix], do I believe than that it is a mere abusing of our understandings to give credit to the words of those who say that there is any such thing as a natural language. All speeches have had their primary origin from the arbitrary institutions, accords, and agreements of nations in their respective condescendments to what should be noted and betokened by them. An articulate voice, according to the dialecticians, hath naturally no signification at all; for that the sense and meaning thereof did totally depend upon the good will and pleasure of the first deviser and imposer of it. Max...

Conversation between Tendoy and Huerito – Sign Language

The following conversation took place at Washington in April, 1880, between Tendoy, chief of the Shoshoni and Banak Indians of Idaho, and Huerito, one of the Apache chiefs from New Mexico, in the presence of Dr. W.J. Hoffman. Neither of these Indians spoke any language known to the other, or had ever met or heard of one another before that occasion: Huerito.— – Who are you? Place the flat and extended right hand, palm forward, about twelve inches in front of and as high as the shoulder, then shake the hand from side to side as it is moved forward and upward— – question, who are you? Fig. 304. Tendoy.— – Shoshoni chief. Place the closed right hand near the right hip leaving the index only extended, palm down; then pass the hand toward the front and left, rotating it from side to side— – Shoshoni, Fig. 305; then place the closed hand, with the index extended and pointing upward, near the right cheek, pass it upward as high as the head, then turn it forward and downward toward the ground, terminating with the movement a little below the initial point— – chief. Fig. 306. Huerito.— – How old are you? Clinch both hands and cross the forearms before the breast with a trembling motion— – cold —winter, year, Fig. 307; then elevate the left hand as high as the neck and about twelve or fifteen inches before it, palm toward the face, with fingers extended and pointing upward; then, with the index, turn down one finger after another slowly, beginning at the little finger, until three or four are folded against the palm,...

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