Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The Language of the Silent World

On my Instagram feed I recently posted an image from an Edwardian booklet on British Sign Language, 'The Language of the Silent World'. This was first published in 1914 and the last edition was printed in 1929. Until it was superseded in 1938 by a new pamphlet published by the National Institute for the Deaf, this was the mostly widely available source of information on sign language.

It's interesting for the choice of words given and also for the way they are signed, which in some cases may show a sign that was a good 'cultural fit' at the beginning of the twentieth century but which may now have been altered (for example, the sign for 'punish' seems to be based on caning, as rainbowhomevintage noted on Instagram). But a lot of the signs are still the same, commentors said -- I don't have any knowledge about this myself.
     I think it's very strange that the last page of the book is a set of animal shadows as this seems to make very light of anyone who relies on sign language to communicate. I don't think you would find those in a sign language book today.
 One of the big questions I have about sign language is how the grammar works? Evidently there are nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, but how do they combine reliably to make complex sentences, how do tenses come across, and different constructions such as conditionals or commands? Perhaps someone will add a comment or two below.
unfortunate placing of wormhole...

     As there was quite a bit of interest in the booklet, I've scanned all the pages for anyone that's interested. My copy has some bookworm holes in it! So if you notice some strange little holes, that's what they are.


lovelygrey said...

Fascinating. Although rather out of place in a sign language book I'll find the shadow puppet instructions personally useful. Thanks! x

Kitsch and Curious said...

Wonderful find. There seems to be a current fascination with old photos. (Just promise me you won't be tempted to embroider random lines on them!) I suppose in the mass of modern photos available to us now, these early ones stand out. The formality of dress, in particular is strange to us now. Is it just me or does this guy look a bit like Kevin Spacey in some photos?