Researches into the Early History of Mankind and the Development of Civilization/Chapter 2



The power which man possesses of uttering his thoughts is one of the most essential elements of his civilization. Whether he can even think at all without some means of outward expression is a metaphysical question which need not be discussed here. Thus much will hardly be denied by any one, that man's power of utterance, so far exceeding any that the lower animals possess, is one of the principal causes of his immense pre-eminence over them.

Of the means which man has of uttering or expressing that which is in his mind, speech is by far the most important, so much so, that when we speak of uttering our thoughts, the phrase is understood to mean expressing them in words. But when we say that man's power of utterance is one of the great differences between him and the lower animals, we must attach to the word utterance a sense more fully conformable to its etymology. As Steinthal admits, the deaf-and-dumb man is the living refutation of the proposition, that man cannot think without speech, unless we allow the understood notion of speech as the utterance of thought by articulate sounds to be too narrow.[1] To utter a thought is literally to put it outside us, as to express is to squeeze it out. Grossly material as these metaphors are, they are the best terms we have for that wonderful process by which a man, by some bodily action, can not only make other men's minds reproduce more or less exactly the workings of his own, but can even receive back from the outward sign an impression similar to theirs, as though not he himself but some one else had made it.

Besides articulate speech, the principal means by which man can express what is in his mind are the Gesture-Language, Picture-Writing, and Word-Writing. If we knew now, what we hope to know some day, how Language sprang up and grew in the world, our knowledge of man's earliest condition and history would stand on a very different basis from what it now does. But we know so little about the Origin of Language, that even the greatest philologists are forced either to avoid the subject altogether, or to turn themselves into metaphysicians in order to discuss it. The Gesture-Language and Picture-Writing, however, insignificant as they are in practice in comparison with Speech and Phonetic Writing, have this great claim to consideration, that we can really understand them as thoroughly as perhaps we can understand anything, and by studying them we can realize to ourselves in some measure a condition of the human mind which underlies anything which has as yet been traced in even the lowest dialect of Language if taken as a whole. Though, with the exception of words in which we can trace the effects either of direct emotion, as in interjections, or of imitative formation, as in "peewit" and "cuckoo," we cannot at present tell by what steps man came to express himself by words, we can at least see how he still does come to express himself by signs and pictures, and so get some idea of the nature of this great movement, which no lower animal is known to have made or shown the least sign of making. The idea that the Gesture-Language represents a distinct separate stage of human utterance, through which man passed before he came to speak, has no support from facts. But it may be plausibly maintained, that in early stages of the development of language, while as yet the vocabulary was very rude and scanty, gesture had an importance as an element of expression, which in conditions of highly organized language it has lost.

The Gesture-Language, or Language of Signs, is in great part a system of representing objects and ideas by a rude outline-gesture, imitating their most striking features. It is, as has been well said by a deaf-and-dumb man, "a picture-language." Here at once its essential difference from speech becomes evident. Why the words stand and go mean what they do is a question to which we cannot as yet give the shadow of an answer, and if we had been taught to say "stand" where we now say "go," and "go" where we now say "stand," it would be practically all the same to us. No doubt there was a sufficient reason for these words receiving the meanings they now bear, as indeed there is a sufficient reason for everything; but so far as we are concerned, there might as well have been none, for we have quite lost sight of the connexion between the word and the idea. But in the gesture-language the relation between idea and sign not only always exists, but is scarcely lost sight of for a moment. When a deaf-and-dumb child holds his two first fingers forked like a pair of legs, and makes them stand and walk upon the table, we want no teaching to show us what this means, nor why it is done.

This definition of the gesture-language is, however, not complete. Such objects as are actually in the presence of the speaker, or may be supposed so, are brought bodily into the conversation by touching, pointing, or looking towards them, either to indicate the objects themselves or one of their characteristics. Thus if a deaf-and-dumb man touches his underlip with his forefinger, the context must decide whether he means to indicate the lip itself or the colour "red," unless, as is sometimes done, he shows by actually taking hold of the lip with finger and thumb, that it is the lip itself, and not its quality, that he means. Under the two classes "pictures in the air" and things brought before the mind by actual pointing out, the whole of the sign-language may be included.

It is in Deaf-and-Dumb Institutions that the gesture-language may be most conveniently studied, and what slight practical knowledge I have of it has been got in this way in Germany and in England. In these institutions, however, there are grammatical signs used in the gesture-language which do not fairly belong to it. These are mostly signs adapted, or perhaps invented, by teachers who had the use of speech, to express ideas which do not come within the scope of the very limited natural grammar and dictionary of the deaf-and-dumb. But it is to be observed that though the deaf-and-dumb have been taught to understand these signs and use them in school, they ignore them in their ordinary talk, and will have nothing to do with them if they can help it.

By dint of instruction, deaf-mutes can be taught to communicate their thoughts, and to learn from books and men in nearly the same way as we do, though in a more limited degree. They learn to read and write, to spell out sentences with the finger-alphabet, and to Understand words so spelt by others; and besides this, they can be taught to speak in articulate language, though in a hoarse and unmodulated voice, and when another speaks, to follow the motions of his lips almost as though they could hear the words uttered.

It may be remarked here, once for all, that the general public often confuses the real deaf-and-dumb language of signs, in which objects and actions are expressed by pantomimic gestures, with the deaf-and-dumb finger-alphabet, which is a mere substitute for alphabetic writing. It is not enough to say that the two things are distinct; they have nothing whatever to do with one another, and have no more resemblance than a picture has to a written description of it. Though of little scientific interest, the finger-alphabet is of great practical use. It appears to have been invented in Spain, to which country the world owes the first systematic deaf-and-dumb-teaching, by Juan Pablo Bonet, in whose work a one-handed alphabet is set forth, differing but little from that now in use in Germany, or perhaps by his predecessor, Pedro de Ponce. The two-handed or French alphabet, generally used in England, is of newer date.[2]

The mother-tongue (so to speak) of the deaf-and-dumb is the language of signs. The evidence of the best observers tends to prove that they are capable of developing the gesture-language out of their own minds without the aid of speaking men. Indeed, the deaf-mutes in general surpass the rest of the world in their power of using and understanding signs, and for this simple reason, that though the gesture-language is the common property of all mankind, it is seldom cultivated and developed to so high a degree by those who have the use of speech, as by those who cannot speak, and must therefore have recourse to other means of communication. The opinions of two or three practical observers may be cited to show that the gesture- language is not, like the finger-alphabet, an art learnt in the first instance from the teacher, but an independent process originating in the mind of the deaf-mute, and developing itself as his knowledge and power of reasoning expand under instruction.

Samuel Heinicke, the founder of deaf-and-dumb teaching in Germany, remarks: "He (the deaf-mute) prefers keeping to his pantomime, which is simple and short, and comes to him fluently as a mother-tongue."[3] Schmalz says: "Not less comprehensible are many signs which we indeed do not use in ordinary life, but which the deaf-and-dumb child uses, having no means of communicating with others but by signs. These signs consist principally in drawing in the air the shape of objects to be suggested to the mind, indicating their character, imitating the movement of the body in an action to be described, or the use of a thing, its origin, or any other of its notable peculiarities."[4] "With regard to signs," says Dr. Scott, of Exeter, "the (deaf-and-dumb) child will most likely have already fixed upon signs by which it names most of the objects given in the above lesson (pin, key, etc.), and which it uses in its intercourse with its friends. These signs had always better be retained (by the child's family), and if a word has not received such a sign, endeavour to get the child to fix upon one. It will do this most probably better than you."[5]

The Abbé Sicard, one of the first and most eminent of the men who have devoted their lives to the education and "humanizing" of these afflicted creatures, has much the same account to give. "It is not I," he says, "who am to invent these signs. I have only to set forth the theory of them under the dictation of their true inventors, those whose language consists of these signs. It is for the deaf-and-dumb to make them, and for me to tell how they are made. They must be drawn from the nature of the objects they are to represent. It is only the signs given by the mute himself to express the actions which he witnesses, and the objects which are brought before him, which can replace articulate language." Speaking of his celebrated deaf-and-dumb pupil, Massieu, he says:—"Thus, by a happy exchange, as I taught him the written signs of our language, Massieu taught me the mimic signs of his." "So it must be said that it is neither I nor my admirable master (the Abbé de l'Epée) who are the inventors of the deaf-and-dumb language. And as a foreigner is not fit to teach a Frenchman French, so the speaking man has no business to meddle with the invention of signs, giving them abstract values."[6] All these are modern statements; but long before the days of Deaf-and-Dumb Institutions, Rabelais' sharp eye had noticed how natural and appropriate were the untaught signs made by born deaf-mutes. When Panurge is going to try by divination from signs what his fortune will be in married life, Pantagruel thus counsels him:—"Pourtant, vous fault choisir ung mut sourd de nature, affin que ses gestes vous soyent naifuement propheticques, non fainctz, fardez, ne affectez."

Nor are we obliged to depend upon the observations of ordinary speaking men for our knowledge of the way in which the gesture-language develops itself in the mind of the deaf-and- dumb. The educated deaf-mutes can tell us from their own experience how gesture-signs originate. The following account is given by Kruse, a deaf-mute himself, and a well-known teacher of deaf mutes, and author of several works of no small ability:—"Thus the deaf-and-dumb must have a language, without which no thought can be brought to pass. But here nature soon comes to his help. What strikes him most, or what . . . makes a distinction to him between one thing and another, such distinctive signs of objects are at once signs by which he knows these objects, and knows them again; they become tokens of things. And whilst he silently elaborates the signs he has found for single objects, that is, whilst he describes their forms for himself in the air, or imitates them in thought with hands, fingers, and gestures, he developes for himself suitable signs to represent ideas, which serve him as a means of fixing ideas of different kinds in his mind and recalling them to his memory. And thus he makes himself a language, the so-called gesture-language (Geberden-sprache); and with these few scanty and imperfect signs, a way for thought is already broken, and with his thought as it now opens out, the language cultivates and forms itself further and further."[7]

I will now give some account of the particular dialect (so to speak) of the gesture-language, which is current in the Berlin Deaf-and-Dumb Institution.[8] I made a list of about 500 signs, taking them down from my teacher, Carl Wilke, who is himself deaf-and-dumb. They talk of 5000 signs being in common use there, but my list contains the most important. First, as to the signs themselves, the following, taken at random, will give an idea of the general principle on which all are formed.

To express the pronouns "I, thou, he," I push my forefinger against the pit of my stomach for "I;" push it towards the person addressed for "thou;" point with my thumb over my right shoulder for "he;" and so on.

When I hold my right hand flat with the palm down, at the level of my waist, and raise it towards the level of my shoulder, that signifies "great;" but if I depress it instead, it means "little."

The sign for "man" is the motion of taking off the hat; for "woman," the closed hand is laid upon the breast; for "child," the right elbow is dandled upon the left hand.

The adverb "hither" and the verb "to come" have the same sign, beckoning with the finger towards oneself.

To hold the first two fingers apart, like a letter V, and dart the finger tips out from the eyes, is to "see." To touch the ear and tongue with the fore-finger, is to "hear" and to "taste." Whatever is to be pointed out, the fore-finger, so appropriately called "index," has to point out or indicate.

"... atque ipsa videtur
Protrahere ad gestum pueros infantia linguæ
Quom facit ut digito quæ sint præsentia monstrent."[9]

To "speak" is to move the lips as in speaking (all the deaf- and-dumb are taught to speak in articulate words in the Berlin establishment), and to move the lips thus, while pointing with the fore-finger out from the mouth, is "name," or "to name," as though one should define it to "point out by speaking."

The outline of the shape of roof and walls done in the air with two hands is "house;" with a flat roof it is "room. To smell as at a flower, and then with the two hands make a horizontal circle before one, is "garden."

To pull up a pinch of flesh from the back of one's hand is "flesh" or "meat." Make the steam curling up from it with the fore-finger, and it becomes "roast meat." Make a bird's bill with two fingers in front of one's lips and flap with the arms, and that means "goose;" put the first sign and these together, and we have "roast goose."

How natural all these imitative signs are. They want no elaborate explanation. To seize the most striking outline of an object, the principal movement of an action, is the whole secret, and this is what the rudest savage can do untaught, nay, what is more, can do better and more easily than the educated man. "None of my teachers here who can speak," said the Director of the Institution, "are very strong in the gesture-language. It is difficult for an educated speaking man to get the proficiency in it which a deaf-and-dumb child attains to almost without an effort. It is true that I can use it perfectly; but I have been here forty years, and I made it my business from the first to become thoroughly master of it. To be able to speak is an impediment, not an assistance, in acquiring the gesture-language. The habit of thinking in words, and translating these words into signs, is most difficult to shake off; but until this is done, it is hardly possible to place the signs in the logical sequence in which they arrange themselves in the mind of the deaf-mute."

As new things come under the notice of the deaf-and-dumb, of course new signs immediately come up for them. So to express "railway" and "locomotive," the left hand makes a chimney, and the steam curling almost horizontally out is imitated with the right fore-finger. The tips of the fingers of the half-closed hand coming towards one like rays of light, is "photograph."

But the casual observer, who should take down every sign he saw used in class by masters and pupils, as belonging to the natural gesture-language, would often get a very wrong idea of its nature. Teachers of the deaf-and-dumb have thought it advisable for practical purposes, not merely to use the independent development of the language of signs, but to add to it and patch it so as to make it more strictly equivalent to their own speech and writing. For this purpose signs have to be introduced for many words, of which the pupil mostly learns the meaning through their use in writing, and is taught to use the sign where he would use the word. Thus, the clenched fists, pushed forward with the thumbs up, mean "yet." To throw the fingers gently open from the temple means "when." To move the closed hands with the thumbs out, up and down upon one's waistcoat, is to "be." All these signs may, it is true, be based upon natural gestures. Dr. Scott, for instance, explains the sign "when" as formed in this way. But this kind of derivation does not give them a claim to be included in the pure gesture-language; and it really does not seem as though it would make much difference to the children if the sign for "when" were used for "yet," and so on.

The Abbé Sicard has left us a voluminous account of the sign-language he used, which may serve as an example of the curious hybrid systems which grow up in this way, by the grafting of the English, or French, or German grammar and dictionary on the gesture-language. Sicard was strongly impressed with the necessity of using the natural signs, and even his most arbitrary ones may have been based on such; but he had set himself to make gestures do whatever words can do, and was thereby often driven to strange shifts. Yet he either drew so directly from his deaf-and-dumb scholars, or succeeded so well in learning to think in their way, that it is often very hard to say exactly where the influence of spoken or written language comes in. For instance, the deaf-mute borrows the signs of space, as we do similar words, to express notions of time; and Sicard, keeping to these real signs, and only using them with a degree of analysis which has hardly been attained to but by means of words, makes the present tense of his verb by indicating "here" with the two hands held out, palm downward, the past tense by the hand thrown back over the shoulder, "behind," the future by putting the hand out, "forward." But when he takes on his conjugation to such tenses as "I should have carried," he is merely translating words into more or less appropriate signs. Again, by the aid of two fore-fingers hooked together, to express, I suppose, the notion of dependence or connection, he distinguishes between moi and me, and by translating two abstract grammatical terms from words into signs, he introduces another conception quite foreign to the pure gesture-language. If something that has been signed is a substantive, he puts the right hand under the left, to show that it is that which stands underneath; while if it is an adjective, he puts the right hand on the top, to show that it is the quality which lies upon or is added to the substantive below.[10]

These partly artificial systems are probably very useful in teaching, but they are not the real gesture-language, and what is more, the foreign element so laboriously introduced seems to have little power of holding its ground there. So far as I can learn, few or none of the factitious grammatical signs will bear even the short journey from the schoolroom to the playground, where there is no longer any verb "to be," where the abstract conjunctions are unknown, and where mere position, quality, action, may serve to describe substantive and adjective alike.

At Berlin, as in all deaf-and-dumb institutions, there are numbers of signs which, though most natural in their character, would not be understood beyond the limits of the circle in which they are used. These are signs which indicate an object by some accidental peculiarity, and are rather epithets than names. My deaf-and-dumb teacher, for instance, was named among the children by the action of cutting off the left arm with the edge of the right hand; the reason of this sign was, not that there was anything peculiar about his arms, but that he came from Spandau, and it so happened that one of the children had been at Spandau, and had seen there a man with one arm; thence this epithet of "one-armed" came to be applied to all Spandauers, and to this one in particular. Again the Royal residence of Charlottenburg was named by taking up one's left knee and nursing it, in allusion apparently to the late king having been laid up with the gout there.

In like manner, the children preferred to indicate foreign countries by some characteristic epithet, to spelling out their names on their fingers. Thus England and Englishmen were aptly alluded to by the action of rowing a boat, while the signs of chopping off a head and strangling were used to describe France and Russia, in allusion to the deaths of Louis XVI. and the Emperor Paul, events which seem to have struck the deaf- and-dumb children as the most remarkable in the history of the two countries. These signs are of much higher interest than the grammatical symbols, which can only be kept in use, so to speak, by main force, but these, too, never penetrate into the general body of the language, and are not even permanent in the place where they arise. They die out from one set of children to another, and new ones come up in their stead.

The gesture-language has no grammar, properly so called; it knows no inflections of any kind, any more than the Chinese. The same sign stands for "walk," "walkest," "walking," "walked," "walker." Adjectives and verbs are not easily distinguished by the deaf-and-dumb; "horse-black-handsome- trot-canter," would be the rough translation of the signs by which a deaf-mute would state that a handsome black horse trots and canters. Indeed, our elaborate systems of "parts of speech" are but little applicable to the gesture-language, though, as will be more fully said in another chapter, it may perhaps be possible to trace in spoken language a Dualism, in some measure resembling that of the gesture-language, with its two constituent parts, the bringing forward objects and actions in actual fact, and the mere suggestion of them by imitation.

It has however a syntax, which is worthy of careful examination. The syntax of speaking man differs according to the language he may learn, "equus niger," "a black horse;" "hominem amo," "j'aime l'homme." But the deaf-mute strings together the signs of the various ideas he wishes to connect, in what appears to be the natural order in which they follow one another in his mind, for it is the same among the mutes of different countries, and is wholly independent of the syntax which may happen to belong to the language of their speaking friends. For instance, their usual construction is not "black horse," but "horse black;" not "bring a black hat," but "hat black bring;" not "I am hungry, give me bread," but "hungry me bread give." The essential independence of the gesture-language may indeed be brought very clearly into view, by noticing that ordinary educated men, when they first begin to learn the language of signs, do not come naturally to the use of its proper syntax, but, by arranging their gestures in the order of the words they think in, make sentences which are unmeaning or misleading to a deaf-mute, unless he can reverse the process, by translating the gestures into words, and considering what such a written sentence would mean. Going once into a deaf-and-dumb school, and setting a boy to write words on the black board, I drew in the air the outline of a tent, and touched the inner part of my under-lip to indicate "red," and the boy wrote accordingly "a red tent." The teacher remarked that I did not seem to be quite a beginner in the sign-language, or I should have translated my English thought verbatim, and put the "red" first.

The fundamental principle which regulates the order of the deaf-mute's signs seems to be that enunciated by Schmalz, "that which seems to him the most important he always sets before the rest, and that which seems to him superfluous he leaves out. For instance, to say, 'My father gave me an apple,' he makes the sign for 'apple,' then that for 'father,' and that for 'I,' without adding that for 'give.' "[11] The following remarks, sent to me by Dr. Scott, seem to agree with this view. "With regard to the two sentences you give (I struck Tom with a stick, Tom struck me with a stick), the sequence in the introduction of the particular parts would, in some measure, depend on the part that most attention was wished to be drawn towards. If a mere telling of the fact was required, my opinion is that it would be arranged so, 'I-Tom-struck-a-stick,' and the passive form in a similar manner, with the change of Tom first. But these sentences are not generally said by the deaf-and-dumb without their having been interested in the fact, and then, in coming to tell of them, they first give that part they are most anxious to impress upon their hearer. Thus if a boy had struck another boy, and the injured party came to tell us; if he was desirous to impress us with the idea that a particular boy did it, he would point to the boy first. But if he was anxious to draw attention to his own suffering, rather than to the person by whom it was caused, he would point to himself and make the sign of striking, and then point to the boy; or if he was wishful to draw attention to the cause of his suffering, he might sign the striking first, and then tell afterwards by whom it was done."

Dr. Scott has attempted to lay down a set of distinct rules for the syntax of the gesture-language.[12] "The subject comes before the attribute, . . . the object before the action." A third construction is common, though not necessary, "the modifier after the modified." The first rule, as exemplified in "horse black," enables the deaf-mute to make his syntax supply, to some extent, the distinction between adjective and substantive, which his imitative signs do not themselves express. The other two are illustrated by a remark of the Abbé Sicard's. "A pupil, to whom I one day put this question, 'Who made God?' and who replied, 'God made nothing,' left me in no doubt as to this kind of inversion, usual to the deaf-and-dumb, when I went on to ask him, 'Who made the shoe?' and he answered, 'The shoe made the shoemaker.'"[13] So when Laura Bridgman, who was blind as well as deaf-and-dumb, had learnt to communicate ideas by spelling words on her fingers, she would say "Shut door," "Give book;" no doubt because she had learnt these sentences whole; but when she made sentences for herself, she would go back to the natural deaf-and-dumb syntax, and spell out "Laura bread give," to ask for bread to be given her, and "water drink Laura," to express that she wanted to drink water.[14] It is to be observed that there is one important part of construction which Dr. Scott's rules do not touch, namely, the relative position of the actor and the action, the nominative case and the verb. Dr. Schmalz attempts to lay down a partial rule for this. "If the deaf-mute connects the sign for an action with that for a person, to say that the person did this or that, he places, as a general rule, the sign of the action before that of the person. For example, to say, 'I knitted,' he moves his hands as in knitting, and then points with his fore-finger to his breast."[15] Thus, too, Heinicke remarks that to say, "The carpenter struck me on the arm," he would strike himself on the arm, and then make the sign of planing,[16] as if to say, "I was struck on the arm, the planing-man did it." But though these constructions are, no doubt, right enough as they stand, the rule of precedence according to importance often reverses them. If the deaf-mute wished to throw the emphasis not upon the knitting, but upon himself, he would probably point to himself first. Kruse gives the construction of "The ship sails on the water" like our own "ship sail water;" and of "I must go to bed," as "I bed go."[17]

A look of inquiry converts an assertion into a question, and fully serves to make the difference between "The master is come," and "Is the master come?" The interrogative pronouns, "who?" "what?" are made by looking or pointing about in an inquiring manner; in fact, by a number of unsuccessful attempts to say, "he," " that." The deaf-and-dumb child's way of asking, "Who has beaten you?" would be, "You beaten; who was it?" Though it is possible to render a great mass of simple statements or questions, almost gesture for word, the concretism of thought which belongs to the deaf- mute whose mind has not been much developed by the use of written language, and even to the educated one when he is thinking and uttering his thoughts in his native signs, commonly requires more complex phrases to be re-cast. A question so common amongst us as, "What is the matter with you?" would be put, "You crying? you been beaten?" and so on. The deaf-and-dumb child does not ask, "What did you have for dinner yesterday?" but "Did you have soup? did you have porridge?" and so forth. A conjunctive sentence he expresses by an alternative or contrast; "I should be punished if I were lazy and naughty," would be put, "I lazy, naughty, no! lazy, naughty, I punished, yes!" Obligation may be expressed in a similar way; "I must love and honour my teacher," maybe put, "teacher, I beat, deceive, scold, no! I love, honour, yes!" As Steinthal says in his admirable essay, it is only the certainty which speech gives to a man's mind in holding fast ideas in all their relations, which brings him to the shorter course of expressing only the positive side of the idea, and dropping the negative.[18]

What is expressed by the genitive case, or a corresponding preposition, may have a distinct sign of holding in the gesture-language. The three signs to express "the gardener's knife," might be the knife, the garden, and the action of grasping the knife, pressing it to his breast, putting it into his pocket, or something of the kind. But the mere putting together of the possessor and the possessed may answer the purpose, as is well shown by the way in which a deaf-and-dumb man designates his wife's daughter's husband and children in making his will by signs. The following account is taken from the "Justice of the Peace," October 1, 1864:–

John Geale, of Yateley, yeoman, deaf, dumb, and unable to read or write, died leaving a will which he had executed by putting his mark to it. Probate of this will was refused by Sir J. P. Wilde, Judge of the Court of Probate, on the ground that there was no sufficient evidence of the testator's understanding and assenting to its provisions. At a later date, Dr. Spinks renewed the motion upon the following joint affidavit of the widow and the attesting witnesses:—"The signs by which deceased informed us that the will was the instrument which was to deal with his property upon his death, and that his wife was to have all his property after his death in case she survived him, were in substance, so far as we are able to describe the same in writing, as follows, viz.:—The said John Geale first pointed to the said will itself, then he pointed to himself, and then he laid the side of his head upon the palm of his right hand with his eyes closed, and then lowered his right hand towards the ground, the palm of the same hand being upwards. These latter signs were the usual signs by which he referred to his own death or the decease of some one else. He then touched his trousers pocket (which was the usual sign by which he referred to his money), then he looked all round and simultaneously raised his arms with a sweeping motion all round (which were the usual signs by which he referred to all his property or all things). He then pointed to his wife, and afterwards touched the ring-finger of his left hand, and then placed his right hand across his left arm at the elbow, which latter signs were the usual signs by which he referred to his wife. The signs by which the said testator informed us that his property was to go to his wife's daughter, in case his wife died in his lifetime, were . . . as follows:—He first referred to his property as before, he then touched himself, and pointed to the ring-finger of his left hand, and crossed his arm as before (which indicated his wife); he then laid the side of his head on the palm of his right hand (with his eyes closed), which indicated his wife's death; he then again, after pointing to his wife's daughter, who was present when the said will was executed, pointed to the ring-finger of his left hand, and then placed his right hand across his left arm at the elbow as before. He then put his forefinger to his mouth, and immediately touched his breast, and moved his arms in such a manner as to indicate a child, which were his usual signs for indicating his wife's daughter. He always indicated a female hy crossing his arm, and a male person by crossing his wrist. The signs by which the said testator informed us that his property was to go to William Wigg (his wife's daughter's husband), in case his wife's daughter died in his lifetime, were . . . as follows:—He repeated the signs indicating his property and his wife's daughter, then laid the side of his head on the palm of his right hand with his eyes closed, and lowered his hand towards the ground as before (which meant her death); he then again repeated the signs indicating his wife's daughter, and crossed his left arm at the wrist with his right hand, which meant her husband, the said William Wigg. He also communicated to us by signs, that the said William Wigg resided in London. The said William Wigg is in the employ of and superintends the goods department of the North-Western Railway Company at Camden Town. The signs by which the said testator informed us that his property was to go to the children of his wife's daughter and son-in-law, in case they both died in his lifetime, were . . . as follows, namely:—He repeated the signs indicating the said William Wigg and his wife, and their death before him, and then placed his right hand open a short distance from the ground, and raised it by degrees, and as if by steps, which were his usual signs for pointing out their children, and then swept his hand round with a sweeping motion, which indicated that they were all to be brought in. The said testator always took great notice of the said children, and was very fond of them. After the testator had in manner aforesaid expressed to us what he intended to do by his said will, the said R. T. Dunning, by means of the before-mentioned signs, and by other motions and signs by which we were accustomed to converse with him, informed the said testator what were the contents and effect of the said will."

Sir J. P. Wilde granted the motion.

The deaf-mute commonly expresses past and future time in a concrete form, or by implication. To say "I have been ill," he may convey the idea of his being ill by looking as though he were so, pressing in his cheeks with thumb and finger to give himself a lantern-jawed look, putting his hand to his head, etc., and he may show that this event was "a day behind," "a week behind," that is to say yesterday or a week ago, and so he may say that he is going home "a week forward." That he would of himself make the abstract past or future, as the Abbé Sicard has it, by throwing the hand back or forward, without specifying any particular period, I am not prepared to say. The difficulty may be avoided by signing "my brother sick done" for "my brother has been sick," as to imply that the sickness is a thing finished and done with. Or the expression of face and gesture may often tell what is meant. The expression with which the sign for eating dinner is made will tell whether the speaker has had his dinner or is going to it. When anything pleasant or painful is mentioned by signs, the look will commonly convey the distinction between remembrance of what is past, and anticipation of what is to come.

Though the deaf and-dumb has, much as we have, an idea of the connexion of cause and effect, he has not, I think, any direct means of distinguishing causation from mere sequence or simultaneity, except a way of showing by his manner that two events belong to one another, which can hardly be described in words, though if he sees further explanation necessary, he has no difficulty in giving it. Thus he would express the statement that a man died of drinking, by saying that he "died, drank, drank, drank." If the inquiry were made, "died, did he?" he could put the causation beyond doubt by answering, "yes, he drank, and drank, and drank!" If he wished to say that the gardener had poisoned himself, the order of his signs would be, "gardener dead, medicine bad drank."

To "make" is too abstract an idea for the deaf-mute; to show that the tailor makes the coat, or that the carpenter makes the table, he would represent the tailor sewing the coat, and the carpenter sawing and planing the table. Such a pro- position as "Rain makes the land fruitful" would not come into his way of thinking; "rain falls, plants grow," would be his pictorial expression.[19]

As an example of the structure of the gesture-language, I give the words roughly corresponding to the signs by which the Lord's Prayer is acted every morning at the Edinburgh Institution. They were carefully written down for me by the Director, and I made notes of the signs by which the various ideas were expressed in this school. "Father" is represented in the prayer as "man old," though in ordinary matters he is generally "the man who shaves himself;" "name" is, as I have seen it elsewhere, touching the forehead and imitating the action of spelling on the fingers, as to say, "the spelling one is known by." To "hallow" is to "speak good of" ("good" being expressed by the thumb, while "bad" is represented by the little finger, two signs of which the meaning lies in the contrast of the larger and more powerful thumb with the smaller and less important little finger). "Kingdom" is shown by the sign for "crown;" "will," by placing the hand on the stomach, in accordance with the natural and wide-spread theory that desire and passion are located there, to which theory such expressions belong as "to have no stomach to it." "Done" is "worked," shown by hands as working. The phrase "on earth as it is in heaven " was, I believe, put by signs for "on earth" and "in heaven," and then by putting out the two forefingers side by side, the sign for sameness and similarity all the world over, so that the whole would stand "earth on, heaven in, just the same." "Trespass" is "doing bad;" to "forgive" is to rub out, as from a slate; "temptation" is plucking one by the coat, as to lead him slily into mischief. The alternative "but" is made with the two fore-fingers, not alongside of one another as in "like," but opposed point to point, Sicard's sign for "against." "Deliver" is to "pluck out," "glory" is "glittering," "for ever " is shown by making the fore-fingers held horizontally turn round and round one another.

The order of the signs is much as follows:—"Father our, heaven in—name thy hallowed—kingdom thy come—will thy done—earth on, heaven in, as. Bread give us daily—trespasses our forgive us, them trespass against us, forgive, as. Temptation lead not—but evil deliver from—kingdom power glory thine for ever."

When I write down descriptions in words of the deaf-anddumb signs, they seem bald and weak, but it must be remembered that I can only write down the skeletons of them. To see them is something very different, for these dry bones have to be covered with flesh. Not the face only, but the whole body joins in giving expression to the sign. Nor are the sober, restrained looks and gestures to which we are accustomed in our daily life sufficient for this. He who talks to the deaf-and-dumb in their own language, must throw off the rigid covering that the Englishman wears over his face like a tragic mask, that never changes its expression while love and hate, joy and sorrow, come out from behind it.

Religious service is performed in signs in many deaf-and-dumb schools. In the Berlin Institution, the simple Lutheran service, a prayer, the gospel for the day, and a sermon, is acted every Sunday morning in the gesture-language for the children in the school and the deaf-and-dumb inhabitants of the city, and it is a very remarkable sight. No one could see the parable of the man who left the ninety and nine sheep in the wilderness, and went after that which was lost, or of the woman who lost the one piece of silver, performed in expressive pantomime by a master in the art, without acknowledging that for telling a simple story and making simple comments on it, spoken language stands far behind acting. The spoken narrative must lose the sudden anxiety of the shepherd when he counts his flock and finds a sheep wanting, his hurried penning up the rest, his running up hill and down dale, and spying backwards and forwards, his face lighting up when he catches sight of the missing sheep in the distance, his carrying it home in his arms, hugging it as he goes. We hear these stories read as though they were lists of generations of antediluvian patriarchs. The deaf-and-dumb pantomime calls to mind the "action, action, action!" of Demosthenes.

  1. Steinthal, 'Ueber die Sprache der Taubstummen' (in Prutz's 'Deutsches Museum.' Jan. to June, 1851, p. 904, etc.).
  2. Bonet, 'Reduction de las Letras, y Arte para enseñar á ablar Jos Mudos;' Madrid, 1620; pp. 128, etc. Schmalz, 'Ueber die Taubstummen;' Dresden and Leipzig, 1848; pp. 214, 352.
  3. Heinicke, 'Beobachtungen über Stumme,' etc.; Hamburg, 1778, p. 56.
  4. Schmalz, p. 267.
  5. Scott, 'The Deaf and Dumb;' London, 1844, p. 84.
  6. Sicard. 'Cours d'Instruction d'un Sourd-muet;' Paris, 1803, pp. xlv. 18.
  7. Kruse, 'Ueber Tanbstummen,' etc.; Schleswig, 1853, p. 51.
  8. Whether the "dialects" of the different deaf-and-dumb institutions have received any considerable proportion of natural signs from one another, as, for instance, by the spreading of the system of teaching from Paris, I am unable to say; but there is so much in each that differs from the others in detail, though not in principle, that they may, I think, be held as practically independent, except as regards grammatical signs.
  9. Lucretius, v. 1029.
  10. Sicard, 'Théorie des Signes pour l'Instruction des Sourds-muets;' Paris, 1808, vol. ii. p. 562, etc. A really possible distinction appears in "lip," "red," ante, p. 16.
  11. Schmalz, p. 274.
  12. Scott, 'The Deaf and Dumb,' p. 53.
  13. Sicard, 'Théorie,' p. xxviii.
  14. 'Account of Laura Bridgman;' London, 1845, p. 26. A similar instance, p. 157, "Jacket Oliver give mother."
  15. Schmalz, pp. 274, 58.
  16. Heinicke, p. 56.
  17. Kruse, p. 57. On consulting Mr. E. H. Hebden of Scarborough, a highly-educated deaf-and-dumb gentleman, I find him to disagree with Sicard and Schmalz to the natural order of actor and action. Mr. Hebden's order is, 1, object; 2, subject; 3, action, illustrating it by the gestures "door key open" to express "the key opens the door," and "mouse cat kill," to express "cats kill mice." This in no way contradicts Dr. Scott's rules. In these questions as to order of signs, it must always be borne in mind that the intelligibility of a gesture-sentence (so to speak) depends on the whole forming a dramatic picture, while this dramatic effect is very imperfectly represented by translating signs into words and placing these one after another. Thus when Mr. Hebden expressed in gestures, "I found a pipe on the road," the order of the signs was written down as "road pipe I-find," which does not seem a clear construction, but what the gestures actually expressed went far beyond this, for he made the spectator realize him as walking along the road and suddenly catching sight of a pipe lying on the ground.–[Note to 3rd Edition.]
  18. Kruse, p. 56, etc. Steinthal, 'Spr. der T.,' p. 923.
  19. Steintlial, 'Spr. der T.,'p. 923.