Sign Language may be the most successful synthetically created language in the world. It is a hybrid language, partly organic and partly artificial: “organic” because many signs developed naturally in the homes and other environs of deaf people throughout the centuries, but also “artificial” in the sense that Sign Language instructors and others (the push starting in France) have taken the multitudinous signs from all the different households and woven them together into a coherent, consistent, and cohesive language that can be understood across entire continents.
Sadly, there is as of yet no worldwide Sign Language– America uses one form of Sign Language, France another, and so on… But perhaps one day Sign Language could become the lingua franca of the globe, or one of them.
Besides being the most successful (semi-) artificial language around, Sign Language is also the most logical. For example, there is a sign for boy and there is a sign for married, and so the sign for “husband” is basically “boy-married”– the combination of the two signs. And the sign for “divorce?” Easy– you pull apart the hands from the sign for “marriage” (which is the two hands clasped).
Also, the conventions in Sign Language stay fairly consistent; for instance, where a sign is made conveys information: near the forehead is often masculine; and indicating behind the body typically means you’re talking about the past.
Furthermore, Sign Language is commonsensical. The sign for a “cup” looks like a cup (curve your hand into a “C” shape as if wrapped around a cup and rest it on your other palm). To sign for “earrings”: grab both earlobes between thumb and forefinger. Many, many signs make intuitive sense. I think this is what makes it such a fun language to learn. And once you start learning the traditions/ grammar/ syntax of Sign Language, you begin to realize that the creation of modern Sign Language is really a kinetic, cross-generational, brilliant work of art.
Of course, signing comes naturally to humans anyway. We use gestures all day long. Even talking over the phone, we can’t help ourselves; we will “talk with our hands” or make faces even though the other person can’t see us. And it’s now become common knowledge that small children often can communicate with signs earlier than they can talk– often acquiring a phenomenal signing vocabulary even before the age of two.
I recently checked-out the book, 1,000 Words To Sign (put together by Geoffrey S. Poor). Signing-books are challenging to pull-off well since the author/ publisher is attempting to use a static, two-dimensional picture to demonstrate a moving, three-dimensional concept. However, 1,000 Words To Sign does as good of a job as I’ve seen at surmounting this obstacle. The pictures are clear and clean. Also, instead of cluttering one photograph with too many arrows, the authors will show the sign in an efficient series of two to three, time-elapsed snapshots. The pictures, along with arrows and an accompanying text describing each sign, give a very good indication of what the sign looks like in real life.
The book also comes with a DVD by which you actually do get to see the signs performed.
1,000 Words To Sign does NOT aim to teach the reader Sign Language. That would require very much more work– as it would for learning any language. For instance, a book translating 1,000 German words into English would definitely not teach you German. But it would get you started.
Next to taking an actual signing class, 1,000 Words To Sign is as good of a place to get started communicating with Sign Language as any.