Sign language is a language used by the deaf for communication. It involves a set of specific hand signals that correlate to words. The use of sign language allows those who cannot hear speech to participate in everyday life by being able to communicate and understand. There are many different types of sign language around the world much as there are many different spoken languages. Sign language is also now being used with young children who cannot speak to enable them to communicate effectively before they have mastered the oral language needed.
The Invention of Sign Language
No one person invented sign language. It is reasonable to think that sign language was widely used before standardized systems were developed. Deaf people needed a way to communicate with others and many had a set of signs that they used at home to make themselves understood. The first system of hand signals as a language was invented by Juan Pablo de Bonet in 1620. He created the first book with sign language signals for teaching deaf people. The next development in sign language occurred in 1755 when a French teacher founded a school for the deaf. Abbe Charles Michel de L’Epee developed a standardized sign language for teaching the students that attended his school in Paris. He studies the signs already sued by the deaf students attending the school and created a standard language that they could all use to communicate based on the signs the children already used. The sign language that was developed is now recognized as the French national sign language and is used throughout Europe.
The predominantly deaf community of the island of Martha’s Vineyard is credited as having a huge influence on the development of American Sign Language along with Laurent Clerc, a European who opened the doors of the first American school for the deaf. In 1817, a school for the deaf was opened in Hartford, Connecticut, and a new sign language emerged based on the French sign language that Laurent Clerc used and the incorporation of sign language that the children brought from home.
Every form of sign language around the world has developed in similar ways as deaf people have found ways to communicate with others. As deaf schools were opened these signs were shared and a standardized language formed.