John D. Bonvillian; Nicole Kissane Lee; Tracy T. Dooley; Filip T. Loncke

Published On


Page Range

pp. 31-54

Print Length

23 pages

2. Use of Manual Signs and Gestures by Hearing Persons

Historical Perspectives

  • John D. Bonvillian (author)
  • Nicole Kissane Lee (author)
  • Tracy T. Dooley (author)
  • Filip T. Loncke (author)
Chapter 2 presents multiple accounts of the widespread use of manual signs by hearing persons in diverse settings throughout history. From an initial theoretical focus on the origins of language in humans, and the potential that language first emerged from gestural or manual communication, the reader is introduced to the views of various historical scholars who believed that signs and gestures are a natural means of communication and could potentially even be a universal form of communication. Such a universal form of communication, however, meets with a substantial obstacle in that gestures may vary widely in meaning and usage cross-culturally. Nevertheless, such a system was developed once before by the Indigenous peoples of North America, who spoke hundreds of different languages. Native Americans used signs as a lingua franca across a wide geographical area to overcome the numerous spoken language barriers they encountered. Also covered in this chapter are the use of signs in early contact situations and interactions between Native Americans and Europeans, and the development of signs by various monastic orders in Europe.


John D. Bonvillian


Nicole Kissane Lee


Tracy T. Dooley


Filip T. Loncke