Topic: Language

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...

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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...

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Are Signs Conventional or Instinctive? – Sign Language

There has been much discussion on the question whether gesture signs were originally invented, in the strict sense of that term, or whether they result from a natural connection between them and the ideas represented by them, that is whether they are conventional or instinctive. Cardinal Wiseman (Essays, III, 537) thinks that they are of both characters; but referring particularly to the Italian signs and the proper mode of discovering their meaning, observes that they are used primarily with words and from the usual accompaniment of certain phrases. “For these the gestures become substitutes, and then by association express all their meaning, even when used alone.” This would be the process only where systematic gestures had never prevailed or had been so disused as to be forgotten, and were adopted after elaborate oral phrases and traditional oral expressions had become common. In other parts of this paper it is suggested that conventionality chiefly consists in abbreviation, and that signs are originally self-interpreting, independent of words, and therefore in a certain sense instinctive. Another form of the above query, having the same intent, is whether signs are arbitrary or natural. The answer will depend upon what the observer considers to be natural to himself. A common sign among both deaf-mutes and Indians for woman consists in designating the arrangement of the hair, but such a represented arrangement of hair familiar...

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Signals – Smoke Signals of the Apaches – Sign Language

The following information was obtained by Dr. W.J. Hoffman from the Apache chiefs under the title of Tinnean, (Apache I): The materials used in making smoke of sufficient density and color consist of pine or cedar boughs, leaves and grass, which can nearly always be obtained in the regions occupied by the Apaches of Northern New Mexico. These Indians state that they employ but three kinds of signals, each of which consists of columns of smoke, numbering from one to three or more. Alarm This signal is made by causing three or more columns of smoke to ascend, and signifies danger or the approach of an enemy, and also requires the concentration of those who see them. These signals are communicated from one camp to another, and the most distant bands are guided by their location. The greater the haste desired the greater the number of columns of smoke. These are often so hastily made that they may resemble puffs of smoke, and are caused by throwing heaps of grass and leaves upon the embers again and again. Attention This signal is generally made by producing one continuous column, and signifies attention for several purposes, viz, when a band had become tired of one locality, or the grass may have been consumed by the ponies, or some other cause necessitated removal, or should an enemy be reported, which would...

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Survival in Gesture – Sign Language

Even when the specific practice of sign language has been generally discontinued for more than one generation, either from the adoption of a jargon or from the common use of the tongue of the conquering English, French, or Spanish, some of the gestures formerly employed as substitutes for words may survive as a customary accompaniment to oratory or impassioned conversation, and, when ascertained, should be carefully noted. An example, among many, may be found in the fact that the now civilized Muskoki or Creeks, as mentioned by Rev. H.F. Buckner, when speaking of the height of children or women, illustrate their words by holding their hands at the proper elevation, palm up; but when describing the height of “soulless” animals or inanimate objects, they hold the palm downward. This, when correlated with the distinctive signs of other Indians, is an interesting case of the survival of a practice which, so far as yet reported, the oldest men of the tribe, now living only remember to have once existed. It is probable that a collection of such distinctive gestures among the most civilized Indians would reproduce enough of their ancient system to be valuable, while possibly the persistent inquirer might in his search discover some of its surviving custodians even among Chahta or Cheroki, Innuit or Abnaki, Klamath or...

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Signals – Signals in Which Objects Are Used in Connection With Personal Action – Sign Language

Buffalo Discovered. See also Notes on Cheyenne and Arapaho signals When the Ponkas or Omahas discover buffalo the watcher stands erect on the hill, with his face toward the camp, holding his blanket with an end in each hand, his arms being stretched out (right and left) on a line with, shoulders. (Dakota VIII; Omaha I; Ponka I.) See Fig. 337. Signal for “buffalo discovered.” Same as (Omaha I), and (Ponka I); with the addition that after the blanket is held out at arm’s length the arms are crossed in front of the body. (DakotaI.) Camp! When it is...

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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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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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