Signed Language Linguistics, History of

For centuries, signed languages were not considered language. Rather, they were regarded as depictive gestures lacking vital characteristics of language such as phonology, word formation, and syntax. Most philosophers, including Aristotle, considered deaf people uneducable because they could not acquire spoken language. The Roman rhetorician Quintilian makes passing reference to the use of gestures by deaf people in his Institutes of Oratory, saying that for them gestures are a substitute for speech. In spite of this widespread view among hearing people, deaf people clearly knew that their signing was a language. In 1780, Pierre Desloges, a Deaf man living in Paris, wrote in defense of the natural signed language of the Deaf community. Desloges described how deaf people use their signed language to discuss topics ...

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