Nicaraguan Sign Language is a sign language that spontaneously developed among deaf children in Nicaragua in the 1980s. It is of particular interest to linguists because it is believed to be to be an example of the birth of a new language, unrelated to any other.

Nicaraguan Sign Language

Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN; Spanish: Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua) is a sign language that was developed, largely spontaneously, by deaf children in a number of schools in Nicaragua in the 1980s. It is of particular interest to the linguists who study it because it offers a unique opportunity to study what they believe to be the birth of a new language.

History

Before the 1970s, there was no deaf community in Nicaragua. Deaf people were largely isolated from each other and mostly used simple home sign systems and gesture (‘mímicas’) to communicate with their families and friends, though there were several cases of idioglossia among deaf siblings. The conditions necessary for a language to arise occurred in 1977, when a center for… Continue Reading (12 minute read)

10 thoughts on “Nicaraguan Sign Language is a sign language that spontaneously developed among deaf children in Nicaragua in the 1980s. It is of particular interest to linguists because it is believed to be to be an example of the birth of a new language, unrelated to any other.”

  1. 1427538609

    A cousin of mine hardly spoke any English. He went to uni and met a French roommate who’s also a really bad English speaker. They somehow developed this jiberish language between them and was able to have a full on conversation that no one else could understand but themselves. Their vocabulary was somewhat limited to only drinks, girls and parties type of words though …. Apparently now a decade later they are now both fluent English speakers, but still remember how to talk in their jiberish like it was yesterday…

  2. twiggez-vous

    Yes, the Nicaraguan case study is special because it is essentially the birth of a brand new language in the modern era. And linguists could witness it in something close to real-time.

    Summary of the [Wikipedia article](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaraguan_Sign_Language) on the subject:

    Before the 1970s, there was no deaf community in Nicaragua. Deaf people were isolated from each other, and communicated to family and friends with basic gestures. In Managua, a school opened up for deaf children from all over the country, teaching them lipreading and signs for the alphabet. The programme wasn’t successful, and children remained unable to communicate with their teachers – or each other.

    Until the children started, in playgrounds and streets outside the school, to pool together their basic signs. This developed into a pidgin language, with an expansive vocabulary and basic grammar, and then further still into a fully-grown language with more sophisticated grammatical structures (e.g. subject-verb agreement) and slang. A new language was born.

  3. AsianHawke

    There is a Mien couple born in an isolated mountain village in Lao. The husband is mute so he communicates with hand gestures. A system he developed by himself. The people around him, over the years, sort of just learned what he was gesturing depending on the context. It’s unrelated to any sign language. The only person who can communicate with him fluently through his own system is his wife. Interesting stuff.

  4. Eclipser

    There was an amazingly insightful and thoughtful board/card/role-playing game called “Sign” created around this phenomenon! It’s a really unique way to look at language and put yourself in the shoes of some of these children.

    [https://thornygames.com/pages/sign](https://thornygames.com/pages/sign)

  5. ThePr1d3

    Isnt it the case for like, a lot of sign languages ? French sign language also developed on its own between deaf people in France before being “discovered” and studied by Abbé de l’Épée in the 18th century

  6. acetothez

    The book “Before the Dawn” by Nicholas Wade talks about the development of grammar and language in the brain and how the simple act of being in a social environment will cause people to speak any language fluently. He hypothesizes what the world’s first language would have looked like – and that it would have formed through an entire population over the course of a single generation. There are many examples of rapidly evolving languages and dialects, like many forms of Pidgin which can be so generational that parents and children can have completely separate and incomprehensible dialects between them.

    Furthermore, the book claims that deaf people acquire grammar in the exact same way and that, linguistically, there is no difference between a hearing person and a deaf person starting from birth.

    It’s a fascinating read and if you are interested in how the brain forms and processes language, I highly recommend it.

  7. Likalarapuz

    Well, im from Nicaragua and TIL! I didnt know this about my country.

  8. BlergFurdison

    If you want to feed your curiosity on this topic, check out the Radiolab show on Words (link below). It’s a radio show that goes over, well, words and their various impacts. It talks about the students who made the first unified sign language. And it discusses the differences between those original students and subsequent generations, which is fascinating. It also talks about a 20-something-year-old deaf man who learns what words are for the first time, which I found moving. The whole episode is a bit of a mind trip in very good way.

    [https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/episodes/91725-words](https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/episodes/91725-words)

  9. comu_nacho

    Brought to you by the Sandinista revolution

Leave a Comment