Sign language is an important part of an inclusive effort to help people communicate more effectively with each other. Just as oral language plays a big part in everyday life, so does sign language which is mainly used by deaf people to function in society. However, it is important to know the background on this specific type of language to understand it better.
There is little to no information on who and when sign language categorically started. There are a lot of schools of thought which all aims to identify the precise point on when it started. There is little debate on who started it mainly because deaf people themselves would be the ones who created their own language.
It would have started with primitive gestures to convey ideas and be able to communicate with each other. There are even people who believe that sign language is even older than mankind. This is simply because gestures preceded vocal pronouncements in the past. This is because scientists have discovered that earlier people did not have the voice space for complex speech. In essence, this makes sign language the mother of all languages.
Catholic brotherhood in Spain
One turning point in the history of sign language came around the turn of the 16th century. The Catholic brotherhood in Spain who oddly enough are not hearing-impaired took a vow of silence. However, they believed that fingerspelling was technically not cheating and one monk, Fray Melchor de Yerba started to publish drawings. These hand shapes were to mimic the alphabet and is meant to help the deaf communicate better.
Father of sign language
On the other hand, one French priest is widely considered to be the “Father of Sign Language and Deaf Education”. Charles Michel De L’Eppe was the first one to establish a free public school in Paris meant for deaf and hearing-impaired. His realization that deaf people could be educated came from observing two deaf sisters communicating using sign language. He, later on, advocated to institutionalize sign language by putting out a dictionary with symbolic gestures to help deaf people communicate better.
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet
Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet plays an important part in the history of sign language as well. He went to Europe in the early 1800s to study communication methods with deaf people. He met Abbe Roche Ambroise Sicard who later on invited him to study in his school for the deaf in Paris. Gallaudet later went to America with deaf sign language teacher Laurent Clerc and they both founded the first school in America for the deaf.
It is interesting to note that as sign language is arguably the first form of communication humans had in the past, it also helped end discrimination of hearing-impaired individuals by providing them the opportunity to communicate with others.