History of Nicaraguan Sign Language

Thirty years ago, no sign language existed in Nicaragua and translate tagalog to english. Deaf people found it very difficult to communicate with their families and with each other. Nicaragua today has a rich sign language that children with hearing impairments can easily learn by watching other deaf people speak sign language. How did this language come about?

Nicaraguan Sign Language was not borrowed from the inhabitants of another country. It was not invented by teachers, parents of deaf children, or even deaf adults themselves. The language originated in the most natural way thanks to one of the generations of young Nicaraguans who really wanted to communicate. Nicaraguan Sign Language comes from where all languages ​​come from – from the human mind, which seeks to connect to the minds of other people.

When did Nicaraguan Sign Language appear?

Until the 1970s, people with hearing impairments did not have the opportunity to meet in large groups. A deaf child could meet the same children at school or in a hospital in Managua, but, as a rule, they were not in many places in one place, and they were not assigned to a separate community for a very long time. And adults with hearing impairments did not have the opportunity to contact such children. And even if a sufficiently effective communication strategy was developed, it was not passed on to the next generation. Each group of children had to start from scratch. They, of course, came up with special gestures to communicate at home and indicate some basic concepts, but this did not go further. The current generation of 30-year-old deaf people remember how difficult it was for them to communicate as children, since there was no sign language.

The new special education program brought about significant changes in the social life of deaf people in the late 1970s and early 1980s. A large specialized school has opened in the Managua suburb of San Judas, bringing together an unprecedented number of deaf young children. Shortly thereafter, a vocational education center opened in Villa Libertad so that these children could continue to socialize as they matured. Deaf teenagers began to communicate with each other outside of school, visit each other. By the end of the decade, there was an association of the deaf with their center, where they could also meet.

The first generation of young people with hearing problems to experience all of these changes are called pioneers. At first, communication was given to them as difficult as their predecessors. However, over time, they began to change the gestures and signs that they used at home. Over the first few years, their vocabulary has expanded significantly – in the same way healthy children learn to speak. Signs became systematized, permanent, and required less gesticulation. The structure of sentences made up of signs has become more complex. Around the end of the 1980s, this generation, having matured, already perfectly mastered the sign system. This language has become similar to other languages ​​of the world. With its help, it was now also possible to express the most complex thoughts.

It was then that a new language appeared – the Nicaraguan Sign Language. The events of the next decade were no less important for the survival and development of the language. The matured pioneers passed on the language to a new generation of children.

Children who entered the specialty school in the 1990s found themselves in an environment that, from a linguistic point of view, was completely different from what the first generation plunged into in the 1980s. The new world possessed a rich system of signs that has evolved over ten years. All schoolchildren learned from their predecessors, and each new class, diligently absorbing information, mastered sign language in just two years.

This generation no longer experienced communication problems at an early age, learning was easy and natural. They didn’t realize that they were the first generation of sign language learners. They studied with enthusiasm, and then continued the work of developing the language. New words and phrases, as well as new ways of combining signs, appear in the language every day – deaf people communicate on the bus, in the schoolyard, in associations and at home.

How did it all happen?

The first generation of Nicaraguan Sign Language speakers could not hear Spanish and did not have the opportunity to learn the language in any other way. They had to be very creative. They adopted gestures as the basis of their language, which they saw other people understand and use in everyday life. That is why it may seem to you that you have already seen some of the signs of the Nicaraguan sign language somewhere. But as soon as these gestures became part of the language, they already lived some kind of new life, and thousands of not so well-recognized signs were gradually added to them.

Since 1989, I have worked with deaf children and adults in Managua who learned Nicaraguan Sign Language at a very early age. They help me figure out how a complex language was formed from individual gestures. As it turned out, children played a very important role in this process. The way they learn the language, how the information is organized in their minds, influenced the structure and grammar of Nicaraguan Sign Language. Therefore, Nicaraguan Sign Language can be called a window into the world of natural grammar of all human languages.

If you have studied Nicaraguan Sign Language, you would probably notice that its structure is very different from that of Spanish. Sentences use different words and these words have a different sequence. Everything is explained by the fact that the structure of the language was not borrowed from Spanish. Most deaf children and adolescents, while in the process of creating Nicaraguan Sign Language, did not have sufficient access to and learn Spanish well. They could not hear him and could hardly understand their parents and teachers.

Nicaraguan Sign Language is not like the sign languages ​​of other countries, such as Swedish, American, or even Costa Rican Sign Language. Some signs came to Nicaraguan from other sign languages, just as borrowed words appear in languages. If languages ​​come into contact from time to time, a natural exchange of words occurs. But anyone who has studied a foreign language knows that it takes a long time and requires communication with native speakers to understand the grammar of the language of another country. The structure of the Nicaraguan sign language is not borrowed – it was created by the minds of children and adolescents right here in Nicaragua.

Why did Nicaraguan Sign Language appear when it first appeared?

The natural learning abilities that shaped Nicaraguan Sign Language have been shared by all Nicaraguan children at all times. Then why is sign language so recent? The social situation may have played an important role. Remember that some deaf people got together before the 1970s, but they did not create any sign language at that time. What were the watershed changes that took place in the early 1980s? It is difficult to answer this question unambiguously – the changes have affected several areas at once. In my opinion, the most significant are the following:

• more deaf people began to communicate with each other (before they never gathered more than 25 people, now there were 200 children in one school);
• communication began to begin at an earlier age (in some cases from 4-5 years);
• For the first time, young deaf children are more likely to interact with adolescents;
• Deaf people stayed in touch with each other for a longer period of time, from childhood to growing up.

Thanks to the first generation to witness all these changes, Nicaraguan Sign Language was born. Today, passing on the linguistic heritage to new generations of children, the pioneers enable future full-fledged citizens of Nicaragua not to start from scratch. From that moment on, little hearing-impaired Nicaraguans have their own natural language, and it is absolutely accessible – there would be a desire to learn it.