Collection: Sign Language Among North American Indians

Sign Language Among North American Indians

Sign language among North American Indians was surprisingly uniform across the tribes, and appears to be the “language” of choice when Indians traversed from tribe to tribe in order to trade. This manuscript provides detailed signs for common dictionary words, complete narration and dialogue, as well as the history of sign language and how its origin in the Indian nations. Of particular interest are the sections on Native American gestures, and their use of smoke signals, fire signals, and dust signals.

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Sign Language with Reference to Grammar

Apart from the more material and substantive relations between signs and language, it is to be expected that analogies can by proper research be ascertained between their several developments in the manner of their use, that is, in their grammatic mechanism, and in the genesis of the sentence. The science of language, ever henceforward to be studied historically, must take account of the similar early mental processes in which the phrase or sentence originated, both in sign and oral utterance. In this respect, as in many others, the North American Indians may be considered to be living representatives of...

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Results Sought in the Study of Sign Language

These may be divided into (1) its practical application, (2) its aid to philologic researches in general with (3) particular reference to the grammatic machinery of language, and (4) its archæologic relations. Practical Application The most obvious application of Indian sign language will for its practical utility depend, to a large extent, upon the correctness of the view submitted by the present writer that it is not a mere semaphoric repetition of motions to be memorized from a limited traditional list, but is a cultivated art, founded upon principles which can be readily applied by travelers and officials, so as to give them much independence of professional interpreters—as a class dangerously deceitful and tricky. This advantage is not merely theoretical, but has been demonstrated to be practical by a professor in a deaf mute college who, lately visiting several of the wild tribes of the plains, made himself understood among all of them without knowing a word of any of their languages; nor would it only be experienced in connection with American tribes, being applicable to intercourse with savages in Africa and Asia, though it is not pretended to fulfill by this agency the schoolmen’s dream of an ecumenical mode of communication between all peoples in spite of their dialectic divisions. It must be admitted that the practical value of signs for intercourse with the American Indians will not...

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Scheme of Illustration – Sign Language

In the following pages the scheme of graphic illustration, intended both to save labor and secure accuracy, which was presented in the Introduction to the Study of Sign Language, is reproduced with some improvements. It is given for the use of observers who may not see that publication, the material parts of which being included in the present paper it is not necessary that the former should now be furnished. The Types of Hand Positions were prepared for reference by the corresponding letters of the alphabet to avoid tedious description, should any of them exactly correspond, or by alteration,...

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