Manually coded language

Manually coded language

Manually coded languages (MCLs) are representations of spoken languages in a gestural-visual form; that is, "sign language" versions of spoken languages. Unlike the sign languages that have evolved naturally in Deaf communities, which have distinct spatial structures, manually coded languages are the invention of hearing people, and mostly follow the grammar of the spoken language — or, more precisely, of the written form of the spoken language. They have been mainly used in deaf education and by sign language interpreters, although they have had some influence on Deaf sign languages where their implementation was widespread.



It is unknown when the first attempts were made to represent a spoken language with gesture. Indeed, some have speculated that spoken languages may have evolved from sign languages, and there may be undocumented cases in history when spoken and signed modes of a language existed side by side. It is not uncommon for people to develop gestures to replace words or phrases in contexts where speech is not possible or not permitted, such as in a television studio, but these are usually limited in scope and rarely develop into complete representations of a spoken language. One of the most elaborated examples of this kind of auxiliary manual system is Warlpiri Sign Language, a complete signed mode of spoken Warlpiri which was developed by an Indigenous community in central Australia due to cultural proscriptions against speech. Sign language linguists usually make a distinction between these auxiliary sign languages and manually coded languages; the latter are specifically designed for use in Deaf education, and usually represent the written form of the language.

In seventh century England, Bede, a Benedictine monk, proposed a system for representing the letters of the Latin alphabet on the fingers. Monastic Sign Languages used throughout medieval Europe used manual alphabets as well as signs, and were capable of representing a written language, if one had enough patience. Aside from the commonly understood rationale of observing "vows of silence", they also served as mnemonics (memory aids) for preachers. These manual alphabets began to be used to teach the deaf children of royalty in 17th century Spain, and can be seen as a kind of proto-manually coded language. Such alphabets are in widespread use today by signing deaf communities for representing words or phrases of the spoken language used in their part of the world.

The earliest known attempt to develop a complete signed mode of a language which could be used to teach deaf children was by the Abbé de l'Épée, an educator from 18th century France. While the Deaf community already used a sign language (now known as Old French Sign Language), Épée thought it must be primitive, and set about designing a complete visual-gestural system to represent the concepts of religion and law that he wanted to impart to his pupils. His system of signes méthodiques (usually known in English as "Methodical Signs") was quite idiosyncratic, and although it wasn't a strict representation of French, its success laid the groundwork for the "signed spoken languages" of today. The real proliferation of such systems occurred in the latter half of the 20th century, and by the 1980s, manually coded languages were the dominant form of communication used by teachers and interpreters in classrooms with deaf students in many parts of the world. Most sign language "interpreting" seen on television in the 1970s and 1980s would have in fact been a transliteration of a spoken language into a manually coded language.

The emerging recognition of sign languages in recent times has curbed the growth of manually coded languages, and in many places, interpreting and educational services now favor the use of the natural sign languages of the Deaf community. In some parts of the world, MCLs continue to be developed and supported by state institutions; a contemporary example is Arabic Sign Language. Some MCL systems (such as the Paget Gorman Sign System) have survived by shifting their focus from deaf education to people with other kinds of communication needs.


The use of MCLs is controversial, and has been opposed since Épée's time by "oralists" who believe Deaf people should speak, lipread and use hearing aids rather than sign — and on the other side, from defenders of Deaf culture who resist attempts to supplant their community language with the language of the dominant (Hearing) culture. Members of the signing Deaf community usually find MCLs "unnatural" and "cumbersome", but elements of these systems have also had an influence on deaf sign languages (see Contact Sign).

Research in the U.S. have shown that Manually Coded English is usually applied incompletely and inconsistently in classrooms: Hearing teachers tend to "cut corners" by not signing word endings and "function words", possibly because they slow down the pace and distort the phrasing of the teacher's natural speech. The result is a kind of "Pidgin Sign English" which lacks the grammatical complexity of both English and American Sign Language.

Major approaches

There have been many different approaches to manually coding spoken languages. Some consist of fingerspelling everything, a technique sometimes known in English as the "Rochester method" after Rochester School for the Deaf in New York where it was used from 1878 until the 1940s. While most MCLs are slower than spoken or sign languages, this method is especially so, and in modern times is generally considered not to be accessible to children. However, some deafblind people still communicate primarily using the Rochester Method. Most manually coded languages can accommodate Simultaneous Communication — that is, signing and speaking at the same time — although the natural pace of speech may need to be slowed down at times.

A unique system that was widespread in British deaf education from the 1960s to the 1980s is the Paget Gorman Sign System. Developed in Britain 1930s, it uses 37 basic signs and 21 standard hand postures to represent a large vocabulary of English words, word endings and verb tenses.

Signed spoken languages

These systems ("Signed English", "Signed German" and so on) were the vehicle for the world-wide explosion of MCLs in deaf education in the second half of the 20th century, and are what is generally meant by the phrase "manually coded language" today. They aim to be a word-for-word representation of the written form of a spoken language, and accordingly require the development of an enormous vocabulary. They usually achieve this by taking signs ("lexicon") from the local deaf sign language as a base, then adding specially-created signs for words and word endings that don't exist in the deaf sign language, often using "initializations", and filling in any gaps with fingerspelling. Thus "Signed English" in America (based on ASL) has a lexicon quite different from "Signed English" in Britain (based on BSL), as well as the Signed Englishes of Ireland, Australasia and South Africa. "Signing Exact English" (SEE2) was developed in the United States in 1969, has also been taught around the world, and is now used in deaf schools in Singapore, and taught in classes by the Singapore Association for the Deaf.[1]

Mouth Hand Systems

Another widespread approach is to visually represent the phonemes (sounds) of a spoken language, rather than the written form of a spoken language. These systems are sometimes known as "Mouth Hand Systems" (MHS). An early example was developed in Denmark in 1903 by Georg Forchhammer.[2] Others include the Assisted Kinemes Alphabet (Belgium) and an Iranian system developed in 1935 by Jabar Baghtcheban[3] — in addition to the most widespread MHS worldwide, Cued Speech. As the entire set of phonemes for a spoken language is small (English has 35 to 45, depending on the dialect), an MHS is relatively easy to adapt for other languages. As of 2006, 60 languages or dialects have Cued Speech systems, though many are not in use or in marginal use.

Cued Speech can be seen as a manual supplement to lipreading. A small number of hand shapes (representing consonants) and locations near the mouth (representing vowels) differentiate between sounds not distinguishable from on the lips; in tonal languages, the inclination and movement of the hand follows the tone. When viewed together with lip patterns, the gestures render all phonemes of the spoken language intelligible visually.

Cued Speech is not traditionally referred to as a manually coded language; although it was developed with the same aims as the Signed Spoken Languages, to improve English language literacy in Deaf children, it follows the sounds rather than the written form of the spoken language. Thus, speakers with different accents will "cue" differently.

List of manually coded languages

Note: This list is incomplete. Please add known MCLs.

Language Signed Spoken Language Mouth-Hand System
Afrikaans Signed Afrikaans Cued Speech (Afrikaans)
Alu (Thailand) Cued Speech (Alu)
Amharic Signed Amharic
Arabic Arabic Sign Language Cued Speech (Arabic)
Bahasa Melayu see Malay.
Bengali Cued Speech (Bengali)
Belarusian Cued Speech (Belarusian)
Chinese see dialects below.
- Cantonese Cued Speech (Cantonese (Chinese))
- Mandarin Wenfa Shouyu (Signed Mandarin (Taiwan)) Cued Speech (Mandarin)
Catalan Cued Speech (Catalan)
Croatian Cued Speech (Croatian-Serbian)
Czech Cued Speech (Czech)
Danish Signed Danish Cued Speech (Danish)
Dutch see dialects below. Cued Speech (Dutch)
- Netherlandic Dutch Nederlands met Gebaren, NmG ("Signed Dutch (Netherlands)"); Sign Supported Dutch
- Belgian Dutch Vlaamse Gebarentaal, VGT ("Flemish Sign Language")
English (see Manually Coded English) The "Rochester Method" — (different manual alphabets are used in different regions). See also dialects below..
- American English American Signed English; Seeing Essential English (SEE1); Signing Exact English (SEE2); Linguistics of Visual English (LOVE); Conceptually Accurate Signed English (CASE) Cued Speech (American English)
- Australian English Australasian Signed English Cued Speech (Australian English)
- British English British Signed English; Sign Supported Speech (SSS) or Sign Supported English (SSE) (speaking English with key-word signing); Paget Gorman Signed Speech (PGSS) Cued Speech (British, Standard Southern)
- Hiberno-English (Ireland) Signed English (Ireland)
- Scottish English Cued Speech (Scottish English)
- South African English Cued Speech (South African English)
- Trinidadian Creole and Tobagonian Creole Cued Speech (Trinidad-Tobago (English))
Esperanto Signuno
Filipino / Tagalog Cued Speech (Filipino-Tagalog)
Finnish Signed Finnish Cued Speech (Finnish and Finnish-Swedish)
Flemish see Dutch (Belgium).
French see dialects below.
- Belgian French Signed French (Belgium)
- Canadian French Signed French (Canada) Cued Speech (French-Canadian)
- Standard French (France) le Français Signé (Signed French, France) Cued Speech (French) ("Langage parlé complété", LPC)
German see dialects below.
- Standard German Signed German - Lautsprachbegleitende Gebärden or Lautbegleitende Gebärden (LBG, "Speech accompanied signs") Cued Speech (German) (Phonembestimmes Manualsystem, "Phonemic Manual System")
- Swiss German Cued Speech (Swiss German)
Greek Cued Speech (Greek)
Gujarati Cued Speech (Gujarati)
Hawaiian Cued Speech (Hawaiian)
Hebrew Signed Hebrew Cued Speech
Hindi-Urdu Indian Signing System (ISS) (vocabulary taken from ISL, adapted for various Indian languages) see dialects below.
- Hindi Cued Speech (Hindi)
- Urdu Signed Urdu
Hungarian Cued Speech (Hungarian)
Igbo Cued Speech (Igbo)
Indonesian Sistem Isyarat Bahasa Indonesia (SIBI, "Signed Indonesian") Cued Speech (Indonesian)
Italian Italiano Segnato, "Signed Italian" Cued Speech (Italian)
Japanese Signed Japanese (also known as Manually Coded Japanese, Simultaneous Methodic Signs) Cued Speech
Kituba (Kongo-based creole) Cued Speech (Kiluba-Kituba)
Korean Cued Speech (Korean)
Lingala Cued Speech (Lingala)
Luba-Katanga Cued Speech (Kiluba-Kituba)
Malagasy Cued Speech (Malagasy)
Malay Bahasa Malaysia Kod Tangan (BMKT) (Manually Coded Malay)
Malayalam Cued Speech (Malayalam)
Mandarin See Chinese.
Marathi Cued Speech
Navajo Cued Speech
Norwegian Signed Norwegian
Oriya Cued Speech
Persian Baghcheban phonetic hand alphabet
Polish System Językowo-Migowy (SJM) (Signed Polish); Signing Exact Polish Cued Speech
Portuguese Signed Portuguese see dialects below.
Russian Signed Russian
Serbian Cued Speech (Croatian-Serbian)
Shona Cued Speech (Shona)
Spanish Signed Spanish Cued Speech (Spanish) (Método Oral Complementado, MOC)
Swahili Cued Speech (Swahili)
Swedish Tecknad svenska, ("Signed Swedish"), developed in the 1970s but now largely out of use Cued Speech (Swedish)
Telegu Cued Speech (Telegu)
Thai Cued Speech (Thai)
Tshiluba Cued Speech (Tshiluba)
Turkish Cued Speech (Turkish)
Urdu see Hindi-Urdu.
Warlpiri (Australia) Warlpiri Sign Language

See also

  • Contact sign — A variety or style of signing arising from contact between a spoken or manually coded language and a deaf sign language.
  • Manual alphabet — a means of representing the written alphabet of a spoken language, but often a central part of natural sign languages.
  • Manually Coded English
  • Makaton


  1. ^ Sign Language (Singapore Association or the Deaf website)
  2. ^ Birch-Rasmussen, S. (1982). Mundhandsystemet. Copenhagen: Doves Center for Total Kommunikation.
    Reynolds, Brian Watkins (1980). Speechreading training related to the Danish mouth handsystem for adventitiously hearing impaired adults. Ann Arbor : U.M.I. 1980 - 145 p. Dissertation: Purdue Univ.
  3. ^ Deaf Way II Presentation On Iranian Deaf Culture, by Abbas Ali Behmanesh
  • ISO 639-2 codes for "signed spoken languages" (e.g. Ethnologue Table C)
  • Cued Languages - list of languages and dialects to which Cued Speech has been adapted.
  • Sign Languages and Codes of the World by Region and by Name - Gallaudet University library online
  • Rehab Council of India
  • Kluwin, T. (1981). The grammaticality of manual representation of English in classroom settings. American Annals of the Deaf, 126, 417-421.
  • Marmor, G. & Pettito, L. (1979). Simultaneous communication in the classroom: How well is English grammar represented? Sign Language Studies, 23, 99-136.
  • Woodward, J. & Allen, T. (1988). Classroom use of artificial sign systems by teachers. Sign Language Studies, 61, 405-418.

External links

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