Old French Sign Language
is a term that loosely describes the language of the deaf community
in 18th century Paris
at the time of the establishment of the first deaf schools. The earliest records of the language are in the work of the Abbé de l'Épée
, who stumbled across two sisters communicating in signs, and through them became aware of a signing community of 200 deaf Parisians.
Records of the language they used are scant — Épée saw their signing as beautiful but primitive, and rather than studying or recording it, he set about developing his own unique sign system ("langage de signes méthodiques"
) which borrowed signs from Old French Sign Language and combined them with an idiosyncratic morphemic
structure which he derived from the French language
. The term "Old French Sign Language" has occasionally been used to describe Épée's "systematised signs", and he has often been (erroneously) cited as the inventor of sign language.
Épée did however influence the language of the deaf community, and modern French Sign Language
can be said to have emerged in the schools that Épée established. As deaf schools inspired by Épée's model sprung up around the world, the language was to influence the development of many other sign languages, including American Sign Language
. From the dictionaries of "systematised signs" that the Abbé de l'Épée and his successor Abbé Roche-Ambroise Sicard
published, we can see that many of the signs... Read More