Nicaraguan Sign Language

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Nicaraguan Sign Language
Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua, ISN
Native toNicaragua
RegionThe Managua region and spreading throughout the country
Native speakers
3,000 (1997)[1]
Deaf-community sign language: developed as a creole language from a home and idioglossic sign, with the addition of an ASL-influenced manual alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-3ncs
Glottolognica1238[2]

Idioma de Signos Nicaragüense, or Nicaraguan Sign Language, is a sign language that was spontaneously invented by deaf schoolchildren in Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s. The language developed when the Sandinist government of Nicaragua created the first (elementary) school for deaf people, in the 1970s. The language is of special interest to linguists, because it allows them to study how languages develop.

In the 1970s, the deaf people of Nicaragua rarely met. They lived isolated lives and used simple gestures to communicate with their friends and family. In 1977, a special programme for the deaf was started in a suburb of Managua. At first, fifty children took part. When the Sandinist came to power, the number of pupils rose to hundred. In 1980, a vocational school for deaf people was opened in another part of Managua. In 1983, both schools together had about 400 pupils.

The teaching was centered on lip reading and the use of a hand alphabet. This was mostly unsuccessful, because most pupils had trouble spelling words in this way. The children were cut off from their teachers, and used recreational breaks, and free time spent together to create a system that allowed them to communicate with each other. Gestures and signs used at home were used to create a pidgin. Later the pidgin developed into a Creole language. The first step, that is to say the pidgin is called Lenguaje de Signos Nicaragüense (LSN) today. Pupils who left the school before the creole language was created, continue to use the pidgin.

The staff of the school missed the fact that a language was developing before their eyes. All they saw were some mimics, and the failure to learn Spanish. As they did not know what the pupils were saying, they asked for help. In 1986, Judi Kegl, an expert on the topic of American Sign Language was asked to help. When she analysed the language, she found out that the pidgin NSL had been made more complex by the younger pupils — it now included a fixed grammar, and the arrangement of verbs. Today, this extended form is known as ISN.

Other websites[change | change source]

  • Nicaraguan Sign Language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  • Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Nicaraguan Sign Language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.