Call 1300 HEARING or (03) 9326 2231
Call: 1300 HEARING or (03) 9326 2231

The Evolution of Sign Language- Part II

Tuesday, June 14, 2016 3:18:11 PM Australia/Melbourne

The Evolution of Sign Language- Part IIWelcome back! A reminder that we’re discussing the history, evolution and importance of sign language for the hearing impaired, and the industry that we’re in. We’ve covered its roots, thank you Socrates for identifying a need so eloquently. We’ve determined that though numerous versions of sign language were popping up all over the world, we can’t identify one that started it all. Credit instead will have to be given to those whose histories are best documented.


It is very possible that earlier signed systems could have been vital in the evolution of sign language, however European ideals were loud and proud at that time. There is an assumption that communities of those who were hearing impaired lived together and taught each other how to communicate in sign language, because they were often cast out by their own societies. But European ideals tell a very particular story. For example, in the seventeenth century, it was commonly accepted in cultures and countries throughout Europe that those who were deaf could not be educated. The Archbishop of York, John of Beverley taught a deaf person to speak in 685 AD. He used a version of sign language and everyone around him deemed it a miracle. He was actually later canonized. This caused an upswing in the growth of sign language, which persisted into the time frame referred to as the Enlightenment.


Between 1500 and 1700, there were identified members of the Turkish Ottoman court who were using what they called Miles, their form of signed communication. The court had a hierarchy of servants, who were very much sought after. They were sought after, because they were deaf. Since they were deaf, they couldn’t argue or talk about their masters. Because of this, they learned to communicate in Miles. Eventually every member of the court learned to communicate this way, so that they could stay in the know.


Let’s take a trip across the pond to North America. Native American communities were using a signing system which they called lingua franca. This enabled different tribes who spoke different languages to find a common tongue. Ethnographer Cabeza de Vaca has described very detailed conversations that were conducted in sign, most likely important trades and political conversations between tribes. How did signing cross the pond? One thought is that there were a number of settlers that traveled from a community in Kent to an area of Martha’s Vineyard. They were believed to carry the deaf gene. In this area of the country, this meant that there was a high density of deaf individuals through the 1700s right into 1840 when it reached its peak. Because of this, a specific version of sign language called Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language was used by everyone, whether impacted with hearing loss or not.


By now you’re probably starting to figure out what a dynamic evolution sign language has been fortunate enough to have. But we haven’t even gotten to the meat of the scientific advancements. Stay tuned for the next installment in our study of sign language.

Posted in Industry News By

Hearlink Admin