Sign language

Perhaps the most important language in the World of Isles is the sign language. This is about as powerful and expressive as the sign-languages for the deaf and dumb currently in use on Earth, such as Ameslan or Austlan. It is very widely used all around the world, and is therefore a very useful means of communication with foreigners. Its major shortcoming is that there are no signs for the letters of the alphabet, so words cannot be spelled out in it. This means that most names cannot be given in sign language, unless they are words or phrases of ordinary language, like ‘shark-killer’, ‘cunning’, or ‘sandy hair’. Merfolk, who use sign-language to communicate under water, have names of this type.

The importance of sign language is not solely due to its wide use. It is indispensable to anyone who must communicate without making noise, such as hunters near game, warriors in the vicinity of the enemy, nurses in a sick-room, and the audience at musical recitals and other performances. It is also very useful for maintaining privacy. A secret conversation held in sign language in a closed room cannot be overheard by someone outside the door. Sign language can be used to communicate in a noisy environment which would drown out speech, or underwater, where speech is impossible. It is very good for making sly asides behind someone else’s back.

Elements of the sign language are very significant in dance, and add great depth to narrative dance. A dance performance can include dialogue without needing to be heard over the music or at the back of the hall.

Most people in the World of Isles gesticulate as they speak, emphasising, clarifying, and supporting what they say with sign language. This is usually subconscious, often involuntary, and sometimes carries essential information. Some people find the flow of their words stifled when they cannot sign. Some cannot keep up other activity with their hands as they speak. Bad liars give themselves away in signs, as they do on Earth with body language. On the other hand, some people, particularly good public speakers, are quite aware of their sign-language subtext, and use it to good effect, being aware that it can often have a powerful effect on an audience’s reactions without being consciously understood.

Copyright © 1991 by Brett Evill. All rights reserved.