What we call American Sign Language actually has roots in Europe. It is also known that in the 18th century, the teacher of the deaf Abbe de l’Epee of France developed an early form of sign language that contributed to American Sign Language. The Abbe de l’Epee developed a system of manual French similar in concept to Signed Exact English. However, there was already a signing French community before the Abbe de l’Epee. This was documented by the deaf author Pierre Desloges. Desloges wrote in his 1779 book Observations of a Deaf-Mute that de l’Eppee had learned French sign language from deaf people in France. It appears that for years, the manual system and the “true” system of signing co-existed, with the manual probably being used in the classroom and the “true” system outside of the classroom.
Many countries have their own forms of sign language that were standardized at different times, but the first standard signing system was American Sign Language (ASL), which began its formation in 1817 when Gallaudet created the first American school for the deaf. It’s important to remember, however, that ASL was based on signs that American and European deaf people were using long before Gallaudet. Both deaf and hearing people have used hand movements to communicate since before recorded history.
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