American Sign Language Of Times Gone By

We probably have a lot of wrong information in our heads about how American Indians actually lived from the movies and TV. One thing that stands out of you watch a "western" is usually when an Indian shows up in a scene, he or she communicates to the other characters in a form of sign language and there is always an "Indian guide" or trapper who understands what was said and lets us in on it. Now the westerns were not always good about representing the diverse and sophisticated cultures of the various tribes that are native to this land.

So you have to wonder if this signing that we see in those shows is something the writer threw in there just to make the movie interesting. It might be surprising to find out that some of the ways that Indians are portrayed in the movies has some basis in fact and that is true about how they communicated long before they had to talk to European peoples. Each Native American tribe that dwelt where our states now are had a very unique culture and language that were as distinct as the Germans are from the Chinese. Because the distances between where the tribes lived were relatively far off, the languages of the Native American tribes were distinct and often not understood between the tribes. If you studied Native American history in school, you also know that the tribes of North American were "nomadic" meaning they moved their place of habitat based on the weather, how much food could be found, disease or perhaps the abundance of enemies in one locale. So even though the tribes were separate cultures, they did come across each other on the plains from time to time.

But contrary to the movies, many times these meetings were friendly and mutually supportive because both tribes had similar challenges in making their way in a sometimes hostile environment. The sign languages of the Native Americans were something that was developed at the time to help different tribes communicate more easily when that was needed. This "language" of sign was valuable for resolving disputes and cooperation in hunting or for giving each other trips to survive the winters.

The leadership of the tribes also used signing to discuss and resolve land disputes and to avoid war when they could because that kind of conflict was not good for either tribe. Scholars in Native American culture has also found out that this same sign language that was used to talk to other tribes had a lot of value in the every day life of a tribe member. There were many situations that talking out loud was not a good idea such as during the hunt or while doing some snooping on enemies and sign language was used to work together as teams to carry out those missions for the tribe. It's fun and enlightening to look back at another people in another time and see how they used sign language to live better lives in harmony with other tribes where possible and to live peaceful and prosperous lives just as we do today. And it's helpful also to learn about other cultures because so often you will make a friend who is from that culture and knowing a little bit about their history makes you a more informed citizen and a better friend as well.

Buying an American sign language DVD course can be an effective way to speed up your learning. Find out how to learn ASL at

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