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The Evolution of Sign Language- Part I

Monday, June 13, 2016 9:12:27 PM Australia/Melbourne

Sign Language has become an increasingly more important topic of conversation for the Hearlink team and our patients and customers. It’s become a way for those with 100% hearing loss to communicate fully with those around them. We’re so fortunate to live in a day and age driven by advances in science, technology, art and philosophy—all playing a part in driving improvements across the hearing industry. And as comprehensive as treatment can be today, it’s so empowering to think about how solutions like sign language can grow and evolve even further over the next ten, fifty, a hundred years.


The Evolution of Sign Language- Part IAs more and more questions arise about sign language, as we see it becoming a common option for education and recreation, we wanted to shed a spotlight on it on this blog. Today we kick off a multi-part series discussing the evolution and importance of sign language.


It’s been around for a while, albeit not necessarily in a form that looks familiar to today’s iteration. The very first record of sign language in Western culture kicked off in the seventeenth century. It was seen then as a visual language. As it is today, it was made up of mimic, hand signs, finger spelling and conventional gestures, in addition to different hand positions for each letter of the alphabet. A question that comes up a lot is whether sign language is based on words or phrases. The answer is actually- both! Sign language is based on its spoken form, according to area. It was grown and evolved by those who are deaf, although we’re definitely noticing an upswing in those who study it with no hearing impairments at all.


Limited information of sign language in even more primitive form is available to us, dating back to the fifth century BC. Socrates is quoted as saying, “if we hadn’t a voice or tongue, and wanted to express things to one another, wouldn’t we try to make signs by moving our hands, head and the rest of our body, just as dumb people do at present?” It wasn’t the first revolutionary idea Socrates had, and it certainly wouldn’t be his last.


Then there is a gap period where our knowledge of what sign language looked is limited to only finger spelling systems, the manual alphabet. These were designed and implemented to assist with the transfer of words from spoken to sign language, instead of a focus on the sign language itself. It’s important to note that there wasn’t a universal sign language at this point, instead there were dozens of sign languages being used around the world. Because of this, it’s tough to determine the very first origins and what cultures learned from what cultures. All we know is that at this time, a need was determined and something really beautiful and important was about to grow.


Next up—the growth of sign language between then and now. Stay tuned for our next blog installment!

Posted in Industry News By

Hearlink Admin