Ojibwa Dialogue – Sign Language

[Communicated by the Very Rev. Edward Jacker.]

The following short dialogue forms part of the scanty tradition the civilized Ojibwas possess regarding their ancestors’ sign language:

Two Indians of different tongue meet on a journey. First Indian points to second Indian with the outstretched forefinger of the right hand, bringing it within a few inches of his breast; next he extends both forearms horizontally, clinches all but the forefingers, and bends the hands inward; then he brings them slowly and in a straight line together, until the tips of the outstretched forefingers meet. This gesture is accompanied with a look of inquiry— – You met somebody?

Second Indian, facing the south, points to the east, and with the outstretched hand forms a half-circle from east to west (corresponding to the daily course of the sun); then he raises the arm and points to a certain height above the southern horizon. Then the sign for meeting (as above) may be made, or omitted. After this he bends the right hand downward, and repeatedly moves the outstretched forefinger and middle finger in opposite directions (in imitation of the motion of the legs in the act of walking). Finally he raises the right hand and stretches up the forefinger (or several fingers). To-day, when the sun stood at such a height, I met one (or several) persons traveling on foot. If the travelers met were on horseback he makes the sign for horse as described by (Dakota III), see Extracts from Dictionary, or the identical one for going given by (Ojibwa I), which is as follows: To describe a journey on horseback the first two fingers of the right hand are placed astride of the forefinger of the left hand, and both represent the galloping movement of a horse. If it is a foot journey, wave the two fingers several times through the air.

Sign Language Among North American Indians Compared with that Among Other Peoples and Deaf-Mutes. 1881

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