Most sign languages around the world are Deaf sign languages; that is sign languages used for communication with and among Deaf people, and created by Deaf people. But, a few years ago, a Deaf man told me about a sign language used by Aboriginal people of North America.
It’s called by many names: Plains Sign Language, Plain Signs Talk, First Nation Sign Language… According to Wikipedia, it was “once the lingua franca across central Canada, central and western United States and northern Mexico, used among the various Plains Nations.”
It was used as a lingua franca, a language of communication between peoples of various languages. According to Hand Talk, a site dedicated to its research, the language was used for communication “between Native American nations speaking at least 40 different languages, but it was also used within native communities as an alternative to their spoken languages and as a primary language for deaf people.”
It must be fascinating case for linguists, including sign language linguists! And, perhaps most importantly, as ASL University says, “it also holds a history among the Native Americans of North America.” I’m pleased to say it seems to be still in use. ASLU goes on to say, “Indian sign language is so faithful to nature and so natural in its expressions that it is likely that it will never die.”
I should mention here, that the name “Indian” is considered offensive to many Native American people, and for good reason. So, I think it’s a good idea to avoid calling them that.
Plains Sign Language (and any other sign language) has largely been replaced by American Sign Language (ASL) in the US and Canada, but it was there when the Europeans landed on the continent. That it has survived to this day makes me feel very pleased that I found yet another language has not been completely decimated by the European invaders of this part of the world.
I do hope it continues to live on!