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Wed Sep 30, 2020, 12:34 AM

The origin of Nicaraguan Sign Language tells us a lot about language creation

In the mid-1980s, linguists stumbled upon a kind of natural experiment on language creation — a sign language being used by deaf children in Managua that was only a few years old.

The World

September 29, 2020 · 12:45 PM EDT
By Carol Zall

In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a dictator whose family had been in power in Nicaragua since 1936.

The new government had big plans, including a massive literacy campaign that was launched in 1980. They supported special education in public schools, including provision for deaf children. This was new for Nicaragua: Previously, most deaf children were completely isolated.

Suddenly, for the first time, there was a community of deaf kids all trying to communicate with each other as hundreds were brought together in a few schools in Managua, the capital. It was here that the new language — Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), or Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN) — would emerge.

Today, Nicaraguan Sign Language has its own complex grammar and a broad vocabulary. And it has helped fill in some gaps in our knowledge about how languages evolve, how they work, and the role a community plays in all of that — especially when it comes to the youngest learners. But in the mid-1980s, linguists were just learning of NSL's existence.

In 1986, Judy Shepard-Kegl, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-trained linguist with expertise in signed languages, was invited by the country’s Ministry of Education to observe the children at the schools in Managua. Shepard-Kegl thought it would just be one trip. Her first stop was a vocational school.

Judy Shepard-Kegl, linguist, University of Southern Maine
“When I walked in, I said, ‘I'm a linguist, I study sign language, what do you want from me?’ And they pointed to a bunch of kids milling around on a little basketball court in front of us and said, ‘We want to understand what they're talking about.’”

At school, the children were taught lip-reading and Spanish and were told not to use gestures. However, by the mid-1980s, teachers observed that students were signing to each other, communicating with their hands. Until then, there wasn’t any official sign language in Nicaragua.

More:
https://www.pri.org/stories/2020-09-29/origin-nicaraguan-sign-language-tells-us-lot-about-language-creation





Also posted in Anthropology:
https://www.democraticunderground.com/12296011

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Reply The origin of Nicaraguan Sign Language tells us a lot about language creation (Original post)
Judi Lynn Sep 2020 OP
underpants Sep 2020 #1
Judi Lynn Sep 2020 #4
niyad Sep 2020 #2
Judi Lynn Sep 2020 #5
tblue37 Sep 2020 #3
Judi Lynn Sep 2020 #6
tblue37 Sep 2020 #7

Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 12:37 AM

1. I had never heard of this

I had no idea they had their own sign language

Thanks

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Response to underpants (Reply #1)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 01:50 AM

4. I've never heard of anything like this. Amazed. Thanks, underpants.

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 12:38 AM

2. KNR and bookmarking for this fascinating article.

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Response to niyad (Reply #2)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 01:51 AM

5. Thanks for checking it out, niyad. 👋

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Response to Judi Lynn (Original post)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 12:46 AM

3. Fascinating! K&R & thanks! (I am severely hearing impaired, but I don't sign.) nt

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Response to tblue37 (Reply #3)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 01:55 AM

6. I did read that before the children developed their signs, they tried to read lips.

It was amazing there was absolutely NO way for these poor children to communicate with anyone, until the country started trying to organize education for everyone, and brought them all together to help them.

You do so well communicating online, tblue37!

Thanks for your comment. n/t

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Response to Judi Lynn (Reply #6)

Wed Sep 30, 2020, 02:07 AM

7. I read lips pretty well. I taught college English before retiring last year. I also do

a lot of writing online. I have 10 public websites, with about 450 articles, and I am a freelance editor.

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