Monastic sign language

Monastic sign language

Monastic sign languages have been used in Europe from at least the tenth century by christian monks, and some, such as Cistercian and Trappist sign languages, are still in use today — not only in Europe but also in Japan, China and the USA. [*Benedictine : Fact|date=February 2007
*Cistercian : Barakat, Robert. (1975). "Cistercian sign language: A study in non-verbal communication." Cistercian Studies Series, 7. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications. ISBN 0-87907-811-1
*Trappist : Quay, Suzanne. (2001). "Signs of Silence: Two Examples of Trappist Sign Language in the Far East". Cîteaux: Commentarii cistercienses, Vol. 52 (3-4), pp. 211-230
] Unlike deaf sign languages, they are better understood as forms of symbolic gestural communication rather than languages, and some writers have preferred to describe them as sign lexicons. [Barley, Nigel F. (1974). "Two Anglo-Saxon sign systems compared." Semiotica, 12, 227-237. (see pp. 234—35 on this point).]


The purposes for which these sign lexicons were used were varied. Travelling Franciscan monks used finger alphabets, possibly as memory aids for preaching, and in Benedictine monasteries, signs representing words were used for limited communication when silence was required. Rather than the popularly imagined total "Vows of Silence", the Rule of St Benedict actually dictates that conversation is only not allowed in certain areas of the monastery and during certain hours of the day. It was only much later, in the 17th century, that certain Cistercian and Trappist orders came to see absolute silence as a kind of penance to endure, together with the other deprivations of their austere lives. [Bragg, Lois (1997). "Visual-Kinetic Communication in Europe Before 1600: A Survey of Sign Lexicons and Finger Alphabets Prior to the Rise of Deaf Education" Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education 2:1 Winter 1997]


Signs are well documented in medieval Benedictine monasteries of Western Europe, from Portugal to England. Antique texts present lists of words with accompanying signs, including instructions for sign production, and occasionally also the rationale for the choice of sign. Signs are mostly nouns relating to monastic life, such as foods, articles of clothing, particular rooms and buildings, ritual objects, and the many different ranks of clerical office. The few signs that act as verbs include "sit," "stand up," "kneel," and "confess." [Rijnberk, G. van (1954). "Le langage par signes chez le moines." Amsterdam: North-Holland. p. 12] They almost always bear an iconic or visually-motivated connection to the thing represented by the sign. No grammar is described for these signs, and they were probably used in the word order of a spoken language — either Latin or the local vernacular — and possibly with accompanying gesture such as pointing. Modern Cistercian monks in England or the United States use a syntax derived "heavily, but not exclusively," from English, [Baron, N. S. (1981). "Speech, writing, and sign: A functional view of linguistic representation." Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 238] while Cisterian monks in France loosely follow the syntax of the French language; at least as much as it is possible to do so, given the limited lexicon. [Barakat, R. (1975). "Cistercian sign language: A study in non-verbal communication." Cistercian Studies Series, 11. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications.] Vocabulary lists in the medieval texts ranged from 52 signs to 472, with "the average at 178 and a mean at 145." [Calculations by Bragg (1997), using data from Rijnberk (1954).]

The earliest Benedictine sign books date from around 1075 (and again at about 1083) at the Abbey of Cluny [Bernhard of Cluny, "De notitia signorum", in: Umiker-Sebeok et al., Monastic Sign Languages, Approaches to Semiotics 76 (1987), Amsterdam: Benjamins, 345-4] (in what is now France), and Hirsau Abbey ["Constitutions Hirsaugienses." Book I, ch. 6-25. In J.-P. Migne, (Ed.), Patrologiae: Cusus Completus (Paris, 1844-64), vol. 150, colo. 940-57.] (in what is now Germany) at around the same time. Bonaventure in the 13th century used a finger alphabet, [Werner H. (1932). "Geschichte des Taubstummenproblems bis ins 17, Jahrhundert" ("History of the deaf-mute problem in the 17th century"). Jena, Germany: Verlag von Gustav Fisher; 1932.] and the medieval "Monasteriales Indicia" describes 127 signs used by Anglo-Saxon Benedictine monks. ["Monasteriales Indicia: The Anglo-Saxon Monastic Sign Language", Edited with notes and translation by Debby Banham. ISBN 0-9516209-4-0. [ Text online] ] A Portuguese list from the sixteenth century. [Martins, M. (1960). "Livros de sinais dos Cistercienses Portugueses." Boletim defilolgia, 17, 293-357. 1-27.]

List of monastic sign languages

*Benedictine sign language
*Anglo-Saxon monastic sign language (defunct)
*Augustinian Sign Language = Canons Sign Language (defunct)
** Dublin Cathedral (defunct)
** Ely Cathedral (defunct)
** Paris (defunct)
*Trappist Sign Language
*Cistercian Sign Language
** (Cluny dialect)


Further reading

*Barley, Nigel F. (1974). "Two Anglo-Saxon sign systems compared." In: Semiotica : journal of the International Association for Semiotic Studies 12 (1974) - pp. 227-237
*Barakat, Robert (1975). "On ambiguity in the Cistercian Sign Language." In: Sign Language Studies 4: 8 (1975) - pp. 275-289
*Barakat, Robert (1975). "The Cistercian sign language : a study in non-verbal communication." (Cistercian Study Series; 7) Kalamazoo, Mich. : Cistercian Publications 1975. Reviewed by Stokoe, W. (1978) in Semiotica, 24, 181-194
*Romeo, Luigi (1979). "Medieval food signs in the monastery of Cluny." In: Ars Semeiotica 2: 3 (1979) - pp. 375-379
*Umiker-Sebeok, Jean, Sebeok, Thomas A., editors (1987). "Monastic sign language." (Approaches to Semiotics #76). Berlin, New York, Amsterdam : Mouton de Gruyter.:*Bentley, Samuel: "A table of signs used during hours of silence by the sisters in the monastery of Sion." (pp. 487-494)
*Kendon, Adam (1990). "Signs in the cloister and elsewhere." In: Semiotica 79: 3/4 (1990) - pp. 307-329
*David Sherlock (1992) "Signs for silence: The sign language of the monks of Ely in the middle ages." Ely Cathedral Publications (Education Group), Cambridgeshire, UK. ISBN 1-873027-05-2. Reviewed in: Signpost 5: 4 (1992) pp. 28-30 by Kristiaan Dekesel.
*Daniels, Marilyn (1997). "Benedictine Roots in the Development of Deaf Education". Bergin & Garvey. ISBN 0-89789-500-2
*Nitschke, August (1997). "Sign language and gesture in medieval Europe: Monasteries, courts of justice, and society." In: Segerstråle, Ullica / Molnár, Peter (eds): Nonverbale communication : where nature meets culture. Hillsdale, NJ : Erlbaum (1997) - pp. 263-274
*Parvaz, Dan (1999). "Monastic and Natural Sign Languages: A new look." Paper presented at the HDSL-2 March 26th - March 28th. 1999 Manuscript
*Ambrose, Kirk Thomas (1999). "Romanesque Vezelay: The art of monastic contemplation." Ann Arbor, Mich. : U.M.I. 1999 - 421 p.: Univ. of Michigan Dissertation
*Bruce, Scott Gordon (2000). "Uttering no human sound: Silence and sign language in western medieval monasticism." Ann Arbor, Mich. : U.M.I. 2000 - xv, 309 p.: Princeton Univ. Dissertation
*Conde-Silvestre, Juan C. (2001). "The code and context of monasteriales indicia: a semiotic analysis of late Anglo-Saxon monastic sign language." In: Studia Anglica Posnaniensia 36 (2001) - pp. 145-169Available online at [ The Free Library] , accessed September 1st 2008
*斉藤 くるみ (Saito Kurumi) 代替手話の文法比較 : 修道院の手話と製材所の手話 (A Comparative Study on Grammar of Alternate Sign Language : Monastic Sign Language and Sawmill Sign Language) [0000259374] (JPN)

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