CHARLES MICHEL DE L’ÉPÉE, THE INVENTOR OF SIGN LANGUAGE

CHARLES MICHEL DE L’ÉPÉE, THE INVENTOR OF SIGN LANGUAGE

The beginning of Sign Language

In the 1500s a Benedictine monk called Pedro Ponce de Leon used signs to help him educate deaf Spanish students.  This paved the way and the first formal sign language was developed by Charles Michel de l’Eppe in the 1700’s.  His method was based on “teaching deaf people through the eye what other people acquire through the ear”.  So it was his vision that laid the foundation for the education of the deaf and dumb.

Charles Michel de l’Épée

Charles Michel de l’Épée was a pioneer in the education of the deaf and dumb. He was a philanthropic educator of 18th century France who become known as the “Father of the Deaf”.  At that time many countries believed that the deaf could not be educated.  Teachers were unwilling to try to educate the deaf and those that did try were only available to the wealthy. Charles Michel de l’Épée changed the concept entirely.  He developed an ingenious system for spelling out French words with a manual alphabet.   Everything was based on simple signs, hand gestures and body language to express whole concepts.

l’Épée believed that deaf people were capable of language and concluded that they should be able to receive education.  Because of this he dedicated himself to the education of the deaf and he founded a school in 1760. Called the Institution Nationale des Sourds-Muets à Paris (National Institute for Deaf-Mutes in Paris), the Abbé de l’Epée became known all over Europe. Emperor Joseph II himself visited the school and wealthy sponsors included Louis XVI and The Duke of Penthièvre.  In 1791 the National Assembly decreed that Charles-Michelle should be enrolled among the benefactors of mankind.  And they undertook to support the school he had founded to ensure his work continued beyond his death.

Country specific sign languages

Many countries have their own sign languages.  So, for example, British Sign Language (BSL) is different from American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des Signes Française (LSF).


Bridging communication barriers is easier than ever thanks to modern technology.  As a result the awareness regarding the education of the deaf is greater than ever.




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