History of Sign Language
Evidence of sign language has been seen throughout history in a vast variety of cultures. Wherever there is a spoken language there will be sign language, as efforts to communicate have to be made in every area of life and whether hearing impaired or not there are areas in life when speaking is not permitted, so a non-verbal way of communication is required.
Amongst the earliest written records of sign language was one that occurred in the 5 th Century BC. This was in Plato's Cratylus where Socrates states “If we hadn't a voice or a 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?”.
Evidence of sign language being used can be found throughout history, with a marked development in the language of signs of Bonet, which inspired Charled-Michel de l'Epee to publish a manual alphabet in the 18 th century, which remains unchanged in France and North America up until the present day. Many sign languages have evolved around schools that are for deaf students.
Generally every language across the world has a sign language counterpart, largely due to the fact many deaf members in a linguistic population will generate a sign language. In the same way that a geographical or cultural force can isolate populations which leads to the generation of a different language, this same principle operated within sign language.
International Sign is the sign language used as international Deaf events such as the Deaflympics and meetings of the World Federation of the Deaf.
Sign Language Linguistics
Sign language is considered to be a rich, complex language despite the widespread misconception that they are not real languages. Linguistics classified as professionals have determined that sign languages have every linguistic component that is required to class sign languages as true languages.
They are not mime, as is the misconception, but signs are considered to be conventional and arbitrary. Iconicity is more systematic and widespread in sign language as opposed to spoken ones, however they are not a visual rendition of an oral language.
Sign language features its own complex grammar and can be used in discussions involving any subject. Sign language encompasses the organisation of elementary, meaningless units into a meaningful semantic unit. The elements of sign comprise the acronym HOLME: Handshape, Orientation, Location, Movement and Expression.
Popular linguistics involved in deaf sign languages includes the extensive use of classifiers, a large degree of inflection and a topic-comment syntax. There are a large number of unique linguistic features that emerge from sign languages' ability to convey meaning in varying sectors of the visual field simultaneously.
Classification of Sign Languages
Despite the fact that deaf sign languages have emerged naturally in deaf communities in synchrony with spoken languages, however they are unrelated to spoken languages and feature different grammatical structures at their core.
Manually coded languages is the term given to a group of sign languages, better understood when considered as being signed modes of spoken languages. Therefore they belong to the language families of their spoken languages. For example there are several signed encoding of english to correspond with this.
Due to the lack of linguistic research into sign language and a lack of attempts to determine whether there are genetic relationships between sign languages there is little public knowledge. Sign language may, however, be spread through the use of migration or through the establishment of deaf schools.
Sign Language in Hearing Communities
With gesture forming a large component in spoken languages, many elaborate systems of manual communication have been created and developed in areas where speech is not deemed practical or permitted, for example in cloistered religious communities, television recording studios, scuba diving, baseball, hunting, stock exchange or in a simple game such as Charades.
Many sports such as football and rugby use sign language to convey messages to team mates or other staff. Recently there has been a call to increase the teaching of sign language to toddlers before they learn how to talk, in an effort to encourage young children to communicate effectively with signed languages long before they are capable of speech.
This is referred to as Baby Sign. Another movement to use sign language with a large number of non-deaf children with other causes of speech impairment or delay for the obvious benefit of effective communication without having to depend on speech. Perhaps the use of sign language would help as a universal language where people can communicate with foreign speaking people effectively.
Learning Sign Language
There are many centres across the country that teach sign language. Whether it be for work-related purposes, whether you are hearing impaired or are close to those who are hearing impaired, you can find a course that suits your needs.
Many career areas will provide you with training in sign language if this is required for your job. Other than that, some areas that provide you with the ability to learn sign languages you will have to pay for the course or alternatively you can opt to gain a qualification in learning a sign language.