Good Morning (or Afternoon or Evening), depending on when you’re joining us today.
Before I start the discussion on American Indian Sign Language, let me say that I will be giving away another book to one of the bloggers today. All you have to do is leave a comment. Applicable to the greater 50 US States and/or to Canada. Void where prohibited.
To your left is the cover of the book INDIAN TALK by Iron Eyes Cody. I have this book, but I also have 4 other books on Indian sign language, one of them being published in 1881. When I’m writing I use all of these books, as they are all similar and yet in some aspects, not. One of my books — and of course I can’t find it right now — has not only Indian sign language, but the language of trails and signs left on trails. I find that fascinating. But before we get into how to say certain things, want to review a little of its history?
All tribes could communicate via the universal sign language. Complex conversations could be carried on that were quiet elaborate, and once sign language was well known — just as we do with our language — shortcuts were taken, with a simple gesture meaning a lot. Expressions mattered also. A frown, a smile. Indeed, if a white man came on the prairie and didn’t know this universal sign language or couldn’t communicate in any way, he was considered rather stupid, or at the very least, rude, for not taking the time and effort to learn.
It’s generally accepted that the Plains Indians cultivated the sign language to a large degree and that they kept it alive all through the years, but even at the beginning of the European’s contact with the American Indian, Colorado talks about their sign language. In the words of this explorer:
“That they were very intelligent is evident from the fact that although they conversed by means of signs, they made themselves understood so well that there was no need of an interpreter.” . . . “They are kind people and not cruel, they are faithful, they are able to make themselves very well understood by means of signs.”
Many of the Plains tribes believed that the language originated with the Kiowa tribe, who learned it in Mexico. But one thing is generally agreed, and that is that the Kiowa were most proficient in using the language. Here’s another quote I found interesting:
“The language of signs is so perfectly understood in the Western country, and the Indians themselves are such admirable sign talkers, that, after a little use, no difficulty whatever exists in carrying on a conversation by such a channel; and there are few mountain men who are at a loss in thoroughly understanding and making themselves intelligible by signs alone, although they neither speak or understand a worn, of the Indian tongue.” Ruxton, NY 1848. Adventures in Mexico and the Rocky Mountains
In my very first book, LAKOTA SURRENDER, the heroine and hero communicate at first by means of sign language. Truth is, I loved this research and I had fun making the signs myself. Okay, so that’s probably enough background. Let’s learn some talk.
“Me” — point to yourself with your thumb; “you” — point to whomever you are speaking to or about; “yes” — start with a closed fist in right hand, index finger extended. At the same time you drop your hand, close your index finger sigh your thumb; “no” — start with right hand held against chest, fingers pointing left. As you swing you hand around in a half circle, turn your hand so that the palm is facing up. “Love” — man crosses his hands over his chest — woman touches her heart.
Let’s make a sentence, shall we. Let’s say “I love you” in sign language. Did you do it? Easy, huh?
Okay, here’s another. “question”: hold your right hand up about shoulder level, palm facing out. Rotate the hand slowly a few times — this means a question is coming. Here’s another: “possession” — meant to show who owns what or to say something like my… whatever. Place your clenched hand close to the neck/shoulder. Bring fist down and foreward with thumb pointing forward. “mother” — With your hand cupped, bring it over to the left shoulder/chest area and tap your chest two of three times.
Okay, are you ready? Let’s say “Where is my mother?” Make the sign for question. Then the sign for mother, then the sign for possession. Did you do it?
There are many different books out there on sign language if you are interested in learning it or reading it. I should probably also say that if you watch — or can get your hands on — any of the old silent movies — or some of the early, early talkies — they had true American Indians playing those roles — and you’ll see them talking sign language. Something to really see.
Here’s the cover copy of my latest book, out on the market, BLACK EAGLE. Please pick up your copy today. And look for SENECA SURRENDER coming soon — only two months away — April 2010.
So how’d you do? Did you like the sign language? Come on in and let’s talk.