Fig. 233

Sign Language – Motions Relative to Parts of the Body

The specified relation of the positions and motions of the hands to different parts of the body is essential to the formation and description of many signs. Those for speak, hear, and see, which must be respectively made relative to the mouth, ear and eye, are manifest examples; and there are others less obviously dependent upon parts of the body, such as the heart or head, which would not be intelligible without apposition. There are also some directly connected with height from the ground and other points of reference. In, however, a large proportion of the signs noted the position of the hands with reference to the body can be varied or disregarded. The hands making the motions can be held high or low, as the gesturer is standing or sitting, or the person addressed is distant or near by. These variations have been partly discussed under the head of abbreviations. While descriptions made with great particularity are cumbrous, it is desirable to give the full detail of that gesture which most clearly carries out the generic conception, with, if possible, also the description of such deviations and abbreviations as are most confusing. For instance, it is well to explain that signs for yes and no, described with precise detail as in Extracts from Dictionary, infra, are also often made by an Indian when wrapped in his blanket with only a forefinger protruding, the former by a mere downward and the latter by a simple outward bend of that finger. An example may be also taken from the following sign for lie, falsehood, made by an Ankara, Fig. 233. in which the separated index and second fingers are moved sidewise in a downward line near but below the mouth, which may be compared with other executions of the motion with the same position of the fingers directly forward from the mouth, and with that given in Lean Wolf’s Complaint, illustrated on page 528, in which the motion is made carelessly across the body. The original sign was undoubtedly made directly from the mouth, the conception being “two tongues,” two accounts or opposed statements, one of which must be false, but the finger-position coming to be established for two tongues has relation to the original conception whether or not made near or in reference to the mouth, the latter being understood.It will thus be seen that sometimes the position of the fingers is material as forming or suggesting a figure without reference to motion, while in other cases the relative position of the hands to each other and to parts of the body are significant without any special arrangement of the fingers. Again, in others, the lines drawn in the air by the hand or hands execute the conception without further detail. In each case only the essential details, when they can be ascertained, should be minutely described.


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

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