SASLJ Vol. 2 No. 2 - Page 15

Sign Language Structure Stokoe, Jr. hat brim; the cheek is the feminine sign because the coiffure of ladies of the period often terminated (showily) there. Another of l’Épée’s signes méthodiques shows how he fashioned a bridge between natural signing and French. He found it necessary to invent several signs for the prepositions (as for other ‘function words’), not that the natural sign language could not express relationships, but because the exact word demanded by the idiomatic French had no single sign equivalent. One such coinage was his sign for the preposition pour. He says it begins with the index finger pressed against the forehead, the seat of the reason or intention, and terminates with the finger pointing toward the object. The sign ‘for’ in American Sign Language is still made identically. L’Épée’s work shows an acute awareness of the several levels on which he was working. Gaining the confidence of his pupils by his ability to converse with them in their own ‘natural’ language, he could introduce them to the quite foreign French language in all its formal elegance through the meta-language of his signes méthodiques. His pupils still in school could demonstrate letter-perfect transcriptions when dictated to in these methodical signs; but his finished students, who from the first became the primary teachers in the school, had thoroughly learned French and could translate from natural sign language into literary French with a considerable saving in time; or they could just as easily transmit the import of written French to their pupils by using natural sign language. 0.13. It is greatly to be regretted that from l’Épée’s day to the present his grasp of the structure of the situation of the congenitally deaf confronted with a language of hearing persons has escaped so many working in the same field. However, to continue the history, l’Épée died in 1789 and was succeeded by the Abbé Sicard who had studied under him a few years before and been put in charge of the new school for the deaf founded at Bordeaux. Sicard is credited by some with even greater success than his master in bringing the most gifted of the deaf pupils to the highest levels of intellectual attainment. Certainly two of his proteges, Massieu and Clerc, wrote and reasoned with a skill outstanding among their hearing contemporaries. Clerc’s articles in the first volumes of The American annals of the deaf (1847ff) are remarkable for their lucidity, good sense, and complete lack of mannerism of style which date the writing surrounding them in that journal. Moreover Sicard is the direct link between the French development of the sign language and the American sign language which is the subject of the present study. 0.14. In 1815 Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet was sent to Europe by a group of public spirited citizens of Hartford, Connecticut, to study the methods of teaching the deaf. Visiting England first, he found little encouragement in the Watson’s London Asylum (Hodgson, The deaf and their problems, London, 1953); but Sicard welcomed him, indoctrinated him in the method of the Paris school, and sent back with him Laurent Clerc who became the first deaf teacher of the deaf in America. The American School for the Deaf was established with Gallaudet as head at Hartford in 1817, and the New York School soon after. At both of these and at many which followed all over the country, the natural sign language as well as the methodical sign system originated by l’Épée was firmly established as the medium of instruction. 0.15. Actually these two sign languages must have tended to become one from the first. The advantages of having, instead of ‘home made’ gestures of the uninstructed deaf-mute, a sign language similarly executed but expressly designed to translate the French language and the culture to which that was the key must have impressed every signer who knew of it even in the eighteenth SASLJ, Vol. 2, No. 2 – Fall/Winter 2018 15