To What Extent Prevalent as a System – Sign Language

The assertion has been made by many writers, and is currently repeated by Indian traders and some Army officers, that all the tribes of North America have long had and still use a common and identical sign language, in which they can communicate freely without oral assistance. Although this remarkable statement is at variance with some of the principles of the formation and use of signs set forth by Dr. E.B. Tylor, whose admirable chapters on gesture speech in his Researches into the Early History of Mankind have in a great degree prompted the present inquiries, that eminent authority did not see fit to discredit it. He repeats the report as he received it, in the words that “the same signs serve as a medium of converse from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.” Its truth or falsity can only be established by careful comparison of lists or vocabularies of signs taken under test conditions at widely different times and places. For this purpose lists have been collated by the writer, taken in different parts of the country at several dates, from the last century to the last month, comprising together several thousand signs, many of them, however, being mere variants or synonyms for the same object or quality, some being repetitions of others and some of small value from uncertainty in description or authority, or both.

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

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