Very basic, elementary and logical characteristics made the Native American Sign Language the world's most easily learned language. It was America's first and only universal language. The necessity for intercommunication between Indian tribes having different vocal speech developed gesture speech or sign language (Clark; pg. 11). Although there is no record or era dating the use of sign language, American Indian people have communicated with Indian Sign Language for thousands of years. The signs illustrated ideas and the language conveyed a message. Many of the simplistic nonverbal gestures that were used by the Indian tribes across the United States are still in use around the world today.
Most of the credit for the development and implementation of Native American Sign Language has been given to the Plains Indians. However, it is believed that the Comanche tribe of Texas actually learned signing in Mexico and much of this information migrated north into the United States (Tomkins). For centuries, most of the Native Americans had been scattered throughout North America, living in the areas where early European explorers and settlers had found them. By the time Christopher Columbus brought word of the "new world" to Europe, the Indian population in North America was well established.
There is no doubt that gesture (sign) language has had immense use and value in the past. It was a learned skill that was once taught to children before they could even speak. Children less than 3 years of age could communicate efficiently with not only adult members of their own tribe and language, but literally any other Indian they came in contact with, no matter what tribe they came from (Comanche Lo...
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... for HEART; touch forehead, and make the sign for GOOD.
Historically unique to the Native Americans, Sign Language is used worldwide today. Gestures are used to communicate almost as much as spoken dialect, especially when one is relaying a story. Without gestures, speeches (and speakers) would quickly become dull and boring. The usefulness of gestures and Sign Language that enabled communication among the various American cultures of the past can not be overstated. Consider this, every nation on earth at one point or another, has universally nodded their head for yes or shaken their head for no.
Comanche Lodge. "American Indian Sign Language." Feb. 2005
Clark, Winford P. The Indian Sign Language. University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
Tomkins, William. "A History of Native (Indian) Sign Language." June 2004
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