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The American Sign Language has existed and has been used for quite some time now. It is said to have originated from Europe. One of its historical accounts states that it started in Italy. Literature also shows that a French man by the name Abbe De L’Epee constructed the earliest structure of sign language that was later on adopted and used by Americans (Lane 5).
Like in many areas of the globe, families with deaf and dumb children have always used sign language to speak to their children. The sign language is also taught in schools for the deaf all the way from early grade schools to secondary schools and in institutions of higher learning.
In the olden days it is believed that the sign language originated from families that were deaf and also had deaf children so their finger spellings were special signs of motion that indicated normal actions. The finger spelling was not well structured like the modern day one. In the old days the deaf moved their fingers to show an intended action.
They did this so that they could understand each other well. Linguistics also shows that the language was more of mimicry of actions. They showed crude actions that had no order and orientation. They were also symbolized activities that were going on in the physical world. The signs had no clarity to inexperienced observers (Padden and Humphries 13).
On the contrary modern sign language is said to be more organized, more regular and well balanced. It can at least be understood on small scale by people who have not taken sign language courses. In addition, it can easily be comprehended. The current sign language finger spelling uses hand shapes to represent letters that stand for different meanings.
The deaf and dumb also move their hands and fingers in a way that not only denotes actions but also names of things, directions, height, confirmation or approval and gender among other things through motioning their hands and fingers. It is noted that current sign language also includes symbols taken from the conversion of English words that have been finger spelled.
The ancient and modern way of finger spelling are similar since both of them involve movements of hands, communicate intended actions and both use gestures. The old one-handed alphabet as has been said was not well organized while the modern day one-handed alphabet shows shapes that stand for different letters that mean different things.
Currently, different numbers of fingers placed in a particular way are used to spell different words. For example, in spelling yes, three fingers are motioned from the hand shape of Y to E then finally to the hand shape of S (Mortensen 25).
Numbers also have unique ways of finger spelling. For example, two closed fists together symbolize the number ten while two fingers denote the number two and so forth. Apparently the finger spelling for numbers between one and ten is usually not hard to understand and can be comprehended by anybody.
It gets tough as the numbers increase. The other numbers follow the same way each number with its unique finger or hand motion. The hands are usually placed on the chest and touching the body for easy and proper visualization and communication. At times the person might need to stand up to be able to communicate well. The body posture is usually upright with different body movements that indicate various meanings.
The articulating or communicative positions also differ and are always in agreement with finger spelling. For example, if the translator or the communicator wants to show something done with the mouth, he or she will always move the fingers towards the mouth.
If it is to show someone was or is eating, the person will always point inside the mouth. To indicate someone who is running, the person will bend forward and move his or her hands in a running motion and at the same time use his fingers to show digits just in case a number is meant to accompany whatever the information he is communicating.
In cases like poetry and drama, the deaf and dumb or interpreters of the sign language normally motion their hands and fingers in the air to form various pictures that communicate different information. For instance, they move both the hands in a semicircular way to denote the heart. This can also be an expression of love. They can also put the hands on the face and make a face that shows crying (Stewart, Stewart and Little 32).
It is always important to understand the different movements of fingers so that no one uses any offensive sign to the deaf people. This is because different signs have different meanings and sign language just like any other normally spoken language has offensive signs too.
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This is especially the case for translators who can communicate and at the same time use sign language, or people who are learning the sign language from others who are not experienced in teaching the language. Research has shown that sign language, just as spoken language, is also going through a drastic revolution thanks to the rapid modernization that is taking place.
Lane, Harlan. When the mind hears: a history of the deaf. New York: Random house 1984.
Mortensen, Viggo. Sign language. Michigan: The University of Michigan Press, 2002.
Padden, Carol, and Tom Humphries. Deaf in America: voices from a culture. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1988.
Stewart, David, Elizabeth Stewart, and Jessalyn Little. American Sing Language the Easy Way. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2006.