Collection: Sign Language Among North American Indians

Etymology of Words from Gestures – Sign Language

There can be no attempt in the present limits to trace the etymology of any large number of words in the several Indian languages to a gestural origin, nor, if the space allowed, would it be satisfactory. The signs have scarcely yet been collected, verified, and collated in sufficient numbers for such comparison, even with the few of the Indian languages the radicals of which have been scientifically studied. The signs will, in a future work, be frequently presented in connection with the corresponding words of the gesturers, as is done now in a few instances in another part of this paper. For the present the subject is only indicated by the following examples, introduced to suggest the character of the study in which the students of American linguistics are urgently requested to assist: The Dakota word Shante-suta—from shante, heart, and suta, strong—brave, not cowardly, literally strong-hearted, is made by several tribes of that stock, and particularly by the Brulé Sioux, in gestures by collecting the tips of the fingers and thumb of the right hand to a point, and then placing the radial side of the hand over the heart, finger tips pointing downward—heart; then place the left fist, palm inward, horizontally before the lower portion of the breast, the right fist back of the left, then raise the right and throw it forcibly over and downward in...

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Distinction Between Identity of Signs and Their Use as an Art – Sign Language

The general report that there is but one sign language in North America, any deviation from which is either blunder, corruption, or a dialect in the nature of provincialism, may be examined in reference to some of the misconceived facts which gave it origin and credence. It may not appear to be necessary that such examination should be directed to any mode of collecting and comparing signs which would amount to their distortion. It is useful, however, to explain that distortion would result from following the views of a recent essayist, who takes the ground that the description of signs should be made according to a “mean” or average. There can be no philosophic consideration of signs according to a “mean” of observations. The proper object is to ascertain the radical or essential part as distinct from any individual flourish or mannerism on the one hand, and from a conventional or accidental abbreviation on the other; but a mere average will not accomplish that object. If the hand, being in any position whatever, is, according to five observations, moved horizontally one foot to the right, and, according to five other observations, moved one foot horizontally to the left, the “mean” or resultant will be that it is stationary, which sign does not correspond with any of the ten observations. So if six observations give it a rapid motion of...

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