Efforts to Preserve North American Indian Sign Language

This week marks the first conference for Indian Sign Language in 80 years. The last post on this blog commented on research suggesting that it is primarily language that shapes culture. We often hear about the efforts to preserve spoken language to in-turn preserve culture, but as the past 80 have demonstrated, we tend to neglect the preservation of our valuable un-spoken languages.

The art of hand-talking was once used commonly by both hearing and hard-of-hearing and deaf persons alike. Previously, sign language was a means of communication between tribes not fluent in one another’s spoken language, and an integral part of cultural ceremonies and storytelling.

The Plains Indian Sign Language documentation workshops, taking place this week, have been organized by Dr. Jeffrey Davis of the University of Tennessee, and Melanie McKay-Cody (Chickamauga Cherokee/Choctaw) of William Woods University with the support of the National Science Foundation’s Documenting Endangered Languages Program. Workshops are taking place on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana. Researchers and participants will utilize modern technologies to document the language and eventually make them widely available in order to expand the preservation and education efforts. Participants will also be trained in preservation strategies that can be implemented in their communities.

Are there any efforts in your communities to preserve sign language? Do you know anyone who is fluent, or even proficient, in signing? Take this opportunity to ask around and seek out information about un-spoken language in your community. There is a rich history there waiting for you to discover it.

More information about the conference can be found here: http://pislresearch.com/

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