Rudimentary Sign Languages of the 19th Century Were Not the Same As Modern ASL.

Image George Dalgarno system for signing.
Image hand layout for signing.
Harold Clark’s talking glove developed for WWI veterans.

Katie Booth believes that Bell’s opposition to signing as it was 140 years ago meant he would try to prevent deaf people today from using modern American Sign Language (ASL). This is mere speculation, like saying someone wouldn’t buy a Tesla because stagecoaches were a rough ride.

There were many different systems for spelling based on pointing to positions on fingers including the system devised at Oxford University in 1661 by George Dalgarno (upper left) and Harold Clark’s “talking glove” developed for veterans injured in World War I (upper right). Finger spelling could be left-handed, right-handed, or two-handed, and different systems used different positions for letters.

In addition to finger spelling, some systems used hand gestures to spell, such as in the sign language manual written by Gallaudet professor George Gordon.

Until the 20th Century, there was no ​standardized sign language like today’s ASL, but rather many different spelling and gesture systems that were not interchangeable. These included spelling by pointing to positions on fingers or by hand gestures, Abbe De L’Epee’s two-handed system for spelling of French words, MVSL (Martha’s Vineyard) signs, and Thomas Gallaudet’s rudimentary Hartford system of signs based on Abbe De L’Epee’s spelling system.

​There were also a number of “phonomimic systems” using hand positions to represent sounds made in human speech. This has led to great confusion today about what the “Manual Method” was in the 19th Century. It certainly wasn’t modern ASL, as some believe.