ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Sign Language for Deaf and Other Aspects

Updated on December 5, 2012
Sign Language Interpreter CSD 2006 Cologne
Sign Language Interpreter CSD 2006 Cologne | Source

Many Aspects of Sign Language

Sign language uses visual sign patterns, as opposed to vocal expression, such as hand shapes, movement of the hands, arms and body as well as facial expressions to convey meaning.

Where there are deaf communities, sign language develops, with complex spatial grammars different from spoken languages. There are hundreds of sign languages in use around the world and they are important to deaf cultures.

Also there are other sign languages, such as those used by the American Indians.

Early documentation

In the fifth century BC Plato makes reference to the use of sign language by the deaf.

Linguistically sign languages are as rich and complex as other languages, according to wikipedia’s article on sign language. Linguists, who are experts in the science of language, have studied sign languages and find they have all the aspects of conventional vocal languages. They have grammars that are complex and their own.  Both simple and complex subjects can be discussed in sign language.

ASL family two people talking sign
ASL family two people talking sign | Source

Sign Language and the deaf


American Sign Language (ASL) is the language used by the deaf in the United States. I have found that sign language is more than just a code. It is a language with all the attributes of spoken language.


Reverend Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet



Gallaudet was one of the founders the American School for the Deaf, which was the first institution for the education of the deaf in North America. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania December 10,1787. In 1805 he earned a Bachelor’s degree from Yale University at the age of seventeen and a Masters at Yale in 1808. He considered the study of Law, engaging in trade, or the study of Theology. He graduated from the Andover Theological Seminary after a two years course of study and became a preacher.

His career took a turn when he met the nine-year-old daughter of Dr. Mason Cogswell. She was Alice Cogswell who was deaf. He started teaching her words by writing them in the dirt with a stick. Cogswell asked him to travel to Europe to study teaching methods for the deaf. The Braidwood family in Edinburgh Scotland, whom they had come to study, was unwilling to share their methods. Gallaudet was not sure an oral method was the best and decided to look elsewhere.

While he was in Great Britain he met Abbe Sicard, the head of the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets a Paris along with deaf faculty members Laurent Clerc and Jean Massieu.

Gallaudet went to Paris at Sicard’s invitation, to study the methods of teaching the deaf by using manual communication. He was impressed with the method and studied teaching under Sicard. He learned sign language from Massieu and Clerc both highly educated graduates of the school. He returned to America accompanied by Clec. Together they toured New England raising both private and public funds for the founding of a school for deaf students at Hartford, which eventually became the American School for the Deaf.

In 1821 he married Sophie Fowler, a former student.

He died at his home in Hartford September 10, 1851 at the age of 63.Nearby Central Connecticut State University in New Britain has a residence hall named in his honor.


Laurent Clerc 1869
Laurent Clerc 1869 | Source

Laurent Clerc


Laurent Clerc was born December 26, 1785 as Louis Laurent Clerc in La Balmes-les-Grottes. Isere.  Generations of American deaf people knew him as “The Apostle of the deaf in America,” according to Wikipedia.

He was a co-founder of the first school of the deaf in North America, which was originally known as the Hartford Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb on April 15, 1817. The School was later re-named the American School for the Deaf.

Perhaps he was the most renowned deaf person in American history He was deaf possibly due to a childhood accident of falling from a chair. He attended the school for the deaf in Paris and was taught by Abbe Sicard and eventually became a teacher himself. He later traveled to England to give a lecture and met Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet.

Alice Cogswell and Thomas Hopkins Gallaundet
Alice Cogswell and Thomas Hopkins Gallaundet | Source

Alice Cogswell


Alice Cogwell was born August 31, 1805. At the age of two years she was ill with spotted fever, which took away her hearing, and she later lost her ability to speak. At the age of nine she met Gallaudet who started to teach her.

She was one of his deaf students to attend the school that would become the American School for the Deaf in April 1817.

She died at the age of twenty-five on December 30,1830.

American Indians and Sign Language



Indian Sign language does not appear to be related to sign language of the deaf. It is largely associated with the Plains Indians of North America. It could be considered the first American language. According to an article by William Tomkins it may be the first universal language produced by any people and   that it is a genuine Indian language

It is estimated that in1885 Lewis F. Hadley, the authority on sign at the time claimed there were 110,000 sign-talking Indians in the United States. There is only a small percentage of sign talking Indians now. Many modern Indians now can speak better English than talk sign.

It appears that Indian sign language was widespread and allowed tribes that could not understand each others spoken languages were able to talk in sign.

Records of early explorers including that of Columbus indicate that they communicated with the Indians by sign.



Other uses of signs



Even though most of us do not use sign language we do use various hand signals. When I first learned to drive we had to use hand signals to indicate right and left turns and stops.  . Technically these signals are still in effect although my observation is that they are no longer learned or recognized. This is unfortunate because such signals come in handy in emergencies when  signal lights malfunction. They are also of use to bicycle riders. Now I often see drivers with their arms out the window in various positions and do not know if they are signaling or not. Apparently they don’t know either.




Dogs controlled by sign or hand signals


Not exactly a language but hand signals have often been used with dogs and other animals. Many training programs for dogs combine verbal with hand signals.

Albert Payson Terhune, the writer of dog stories, wrote some stories that took place in countries where sheep herding was a prominent culture and described how the sheep dogs were entirely controlled by sign.



Real sign languages are complex linguistically and have a history with the deaf communities that date back as far as Plato.  There are several sign languages for the deaf often associated with particular counties. In the United States the American School for the Deaf has been instrumental in teaching the deaf. American Sign Language (ASL) is a widespread language for the deaf in the United States.

Although not related to languages for the deaf American Indian Sign Language has been around since before white explorers made contact with the Indians.

© 2011 Don A. Hoglund


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      7 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment.Glad you found it useful.

    • theherbivorehippi profile image


      7 years ago from Holly, MI

      Wow...what a ton of information here. I have said for many years I would love to learn to sign..."just in case" I'm ever in a position where I need it. Coincidentally, I'm glad you mentioned dogs learning signals, mine are trained to respond to both verbal and hand commands. Fantastic hub!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Therre are many sign languages. there are even different sign languages among the deaf.But, like you say there are other,maybe less complex, sign languages.Thanks for commenting.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I can't imagine a world without a sign language, everyone use it not only the deaf. It use for some commands, like thumbs up, quiet, stop etc.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for the comment and vote.The information in this hub,by the way, also serves as background for some of the western stories I have written with the deaf boy and deaf dog.

      Your teaching experience is very special.

    • Reynold Jay profile image

      Reynold Jay 

      8 years ago from Saginaw, Michigan

      The very first thing I needed to do when I bacame a special ed teacher was to purchase a sign language book. I had a deaf student assigned to me and he was a holy terror for lack of communication. It was a rewarding expeince to teach him ( and the other students too)( they wanted to talk to him/listend etc) and things turned around quickly. Much like the Arch story. Excellent and well researched HUB. Wonderful up and awesome.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      By accident we went to a church service done in sign and English. We were just looking for a service out of town and didn't know about the sign language. It gave me insight I wouldn't have otherwise.Thanks for commenting.

    • Truckstop Sally profile image

      Truckstop Sally 

      8 years ago

      Thanks for the information. We have an outdoor theatre in my town, and on many nights -- the plays are offered in sign language. Beautiful to watch!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thanks for commenting. In the United States our sign language is based on the French for the simple reason that those who established it learned in France. Since our culture is more based on the English one would expect us to have a sign language based on English.

      It was only when I attended a church service done in English and sign language that I realized that it can also be esthetically pleasing.

      As far as using hand when they talk I think some nationalities like the Jewish, Italians and French do it more than some others.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Frog Prince

      Sounds like a wise thing to do. I wish I had done that.I found myself having to interact with deaf persons both in terms of working with them or socializing. I felt rather helpless in communicating.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids


      Thank you for reading and commenting.Since I have been doing some fiction with a deaf boy as a main character I though a bit of information on the subject might be appropriate.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 

      8 years ago from Arlington, TX

      I knew someone once who took sign language classes just so, if by chance she encountered people using it, she'd know what they were saying.

      Excellent Hub.

      The Frog

    • Jane Bovary profile image

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Dahoglund, People often use their hands quite a bit when they seems to be a natural form of expression. It's fascinating though, that a 'rich and complex language', as you say, could be expressed purely through signs. Over here we have a sign language called 'Auslan', which developed over time from the signing brought over from Britain and Ireland.

    • creativeone59 profile image

      benny Faye Douglass 

      8 years ago from Gold Canyon, Arizona

      Thank you for very informative and awesome hub on sign lanuage for deaf people. Thank you for sharing. Godspeed. creativeone59

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Until I started researching it I thought it was from Indian sign language.I never thought it went back so far or was a true language. It is certainly a good skill to have. Thank you for the comment and votes.

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Hazelton 

      8 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Very interesting dahoglund. I never thought about how sign language was started, I'm not really sure why. My youngest daughter was lucky to have a 1st grade teacher that began teaching her sign language when she found out she was bored. It started a lifelong interest in it. Wonderful hub. Voted up and awesome.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I have just come to appreciate what sign language is all about.It never occurred to me to learn it at a time when I was around hearing impaired people.Thanks for you comment.

    • Storytellersrus profile image


      8 years ago from Stepping past clutter

      da, this is one language I have always wanted to learn. Thanks for focusing attention on this lovely form of communication.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for commenting and noting the benefits of sign language for children.

    • Tamarajo profile image


      8 years ago

      Intereting article on the history and various applications of sign language.

      I have a special needs granddaughter who can hear but has other difficulties communicating we found that sign language was very beneficial for this and we also taught our other granddaughters as toddlers which helped reduce temper tantrums because they were able to communicate their needs. There are some interesting stats on the benefits of sign language for any child.

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      Thanks for your comment. I am glad to have input from someone who has actual first hand knowledge of sign language.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Very good hub, my step-sister is deaf and I learned sign language from her. I also worked with someone that was deaf and because I already knew sign language I was able to converse with her. I have used the hand signals while driving at times when I know that my turn signals are not working.

      Up and Useful!

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      The mass was in both English and sign. It was pretty much a typical mass otherwise. There were hymns. We didn't know that they had it in sign language until we got there.It was interesting in that so many participants were doing the hymns in sign language which was a bit like watching a dance with hands.Very graceful. I have seen sign translators other places but I had never seen so many people participating in something with sign language.

      When I used to take the bus to work there were several deaf people on the bus who talked to each other.

      As far as feeling vibrations we probably all can but the deaf might be more aware of it or sensitive to it.

      Thanks for your interest.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      That must have been really interesting! Did they have music in church? I am lead to believe that some people who are deaf can feel vibrations. Maybe that is only if they touch the musical instruments?

    • dahoglund profile imageAUTHOR

      Don A. Hoglund 

      8 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

      I had originally thought that Indian sign language was the basis for Sign Language for the deaf but it turns out they are not related. I was surprised to find out how sophisticated these languages are.Last year we went to mass in Minneapolis that was done in sign language. Quite impressive with so many in the congregation following in sign language.

      Thanks for the comments and the votes.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Good subject and I like how you wove it into sign language for dogs; the old signs for signaling when driving, etc. Voted up and useful. Thanks!


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)