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It’s International Week of the Deaf!

By Memrise Blog

International Week of the Deaf is celebrated from the 21st to the 27th of September, and to join in we have decided to ask our users to create a sign for Memrise!

Do you have a great idea?

Record it or take a picture of it and send them over either by uploading it to your Instagram account using the hashtag #memrisesign or by sending it over to emi@memrise.com. We will then share them with our Instagram users!

To provide context for this celebration, let’s explore a little bit about the history of Sign Language…

“Sign languages consist of sequences of movements and configurations of the hands and arms, face, and upper torso.” (wfdeaf.org) They have been around ever since verbal languages. They developed similar to spoken tongues, by certain groups of people interacting and communicating with each other. Some scientists believe that sign language preceded spoken tongues. People most likely started communicating with the aid of gestures. Early man commenced by pointing and creating signs for those objects and concepts that they were not otherwise able to define.

The development of languages, be it signed or spoken, is strongly influenced by the culture in which the language is practiced. Hence, culture has a strong hold on how languages are formed. This is the reason sign language is different in countries where the spoken language is actually the same, for example American and British English sign language differ.

Sign languages and spoken tongues evolve similarly. When someone realises there is a need for a new sign for a certain concept or word, they create their own sign and start using it in conversation. If the community likes the new addition and starts using it, it will soon become widely known and eventually finds its way into the community’s ‘lexicon’. Today, thanks to the internet this process is accelerated.

There are several processes for a new sign to evolve. It can be simply fingerspelling the word or a modification of an existing sign. However, many times people tend to act out the object they are describing with the help of hand shapes and movements. “How we use things often end up becoming signs for the concept itself.” (quora.com) It is a known process for signs to be borrowed and adopted from other countries’ sign languages. Some signs also get abbreviated over time.

If the community does not find the new sign appropriate or useful it will die a quick death until a new sign is allocated. Just as new spoken words are created, fresh signs are developed.

Sign language “shows that the human drive for language is so strong that when deafness makes speech inaccessible, it finds another channel, creating language in sign.” (linguisticsociety.org)