The birth of a language

In 1986, Nicaraguan officials invited American linguist Judy Shepard-Kegl to observe a group of Deaf children. The kids were using an unrecognizable signing system. Over the following years, Shepard-Kegl and other linguists found themselves uniquely placed to observe what they came to realize was the emergence of a new language. Today, Nicaraguan Sign Language has its own complex grammar and a broad vocabulary. What can it tell us about how languages evolve?

Photo of Deaf youth with Deaf outreach workers in rural Nicaragua courtesy of Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects, Inc. Music by Blue Dot Sessions, Podington Bear and Martin Klem.

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