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The development of a

sign language


WE of to-day can hardly realize that there was ever a time when men had no means of revealing their experiences to those who could not observe their gesticulations or featural expression or who could not hear their voice. our remotest ancestors had no methods of communicating their experiences to persons at a distance or to those who should come after them in time. That is to say, they had no graphic methods of expression; they relied entirely upon manual, featural, postural and vocal activities to reveal their beliefs, their aversions and their desires. The range of their expressional activity was enlarged when they discovered that they could communicate with each other by the use of signs in which they could reproduce by the positions or movements of their fingers, hands, arms and postures certain of the striking and distinguishing characteristics of the objects or phenomena about them. But this sign language served only as a medium of communication with persons who were present and could actually see the signs; it did not enable an individual to transmit his experiences to those who were remote from him in time or space. But the employment of gestural and postural signs paved the way for the elaboration of a system of communication by means of which ideas could be conveyed to persons distant from the individual in time and in space. It was found that by making pictures in reproduction of their gestural and postural signs they could convey their experiences to persons who were

absent; that is, they could suggest objects and their relations to one another and to themselves as well by means of lines in the sand or on stones or trees as they could by physical signs. In this way drawing originated. It played a rôle at the outset merely as a medium of communicating with those who were remote in time or space from the individual. By means of rude diagrams embodying some of the form characteristics of objects man found that he could suggest these objects to anyone who might see the diagrams; and by arranging the diagrams in certain spatial relations, it was found to be possible to suggest what the objects were doing or what the artist did with them or what he desired that others should do with them. Thus primitive man used his diagrams to convey to his absent associates what he would have conveyed to them by means of voice, grimace, gesture and posture if they had been within hearing and seeing distance of him. In this simple, crude way our modern complicated system of graphic language originated.

ment of

It was intimated above that in the early stages of the employment of drawing as a medium of expression, primitive man used diagrams which embodied just enough of the char- The acteristics of objects to suggest them to the observer. developFortunately experience with these diagrams led grad- linguistic ually to the realization that it should be possible to symbols employ signs which would not have any direct connection with objects but which nevertheless could be utilized to designate objects. And if a sign which did not look like any object could be used to denote objects it would be more serviceable than a diagram which would be confined in suggestiveness to the objects which it resembled in some degree. When early man caught this idea he started on the development of a system of graphic signs which would be purely symbolic; that is, they would have no pictorial resemblance to the objects or ideas which they denoted.

Coming now to the child, how does he acquire these graphic means of expression? He does not have to learn grimace Scribbling or gesture or intonation; does he have to learn activities drawing? He acquires spoken language readily through imitation; will he acquire written language in the same way?

Give a three-year-old child a pencil and a piece of paper and he will find pleasure in scribbling. So far as one can tell

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FIG. 12. The evolution of the letter M. (See exercise 1, page 325.)

he does not make use of this scribbling as a means of conveying to those about him how he feels or what he wishes to do or what he would like to have them do. He seems to say, "Look at these black marks I am making; it is great to be able to do a thing like this." He does not appear to say: "Look at the man I have made," or the dog or the horse.

This scribbling activity continues until the fourth or fifth year. It might continue longer if a child should be left entirely without suggestion or guidance; but it is apparently impossible for an adult to restrain himself from responding to a child's invitation to "make a picture of something." A four-yearold child who has pencil and paper will beg a bystander to

"make a picture" for him, and the bystander will usually, make diagrams resembling those made by early man; and a particular diagram will as a rule represent the same object that primitive people used it to denote. A three-year-old child will make a number of lines without any definite relation to each other and then exclaim: "Look at Kitty," or "Look at Daddy,"

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FIG. 13.

Examples of pictorial writing.. -1, Warning; 2, Combat; 3, Morning; 4, Wheat stored in pit; 5, Traveling on foot, and by water. (See exercise 2, page 325.)

or some other person or object. The expression of his features will indicate that he is pleased with his handiwork, but it is probable that what really gives him pleasure is not only the product of his efforts but also the act of making the picture. He still is in the stage when he enjoys merely managing a pencil. Between the fourth and the fifth year, however, he nor

mally abandons the scribbling stage and enters the diagrammatic stage in graphic expression. When he enters the latter stage he will no longer be interested largely in the muscular activity of running his pencil over the paper; he will strive to make pictures that bear at least a slight resemblance to objects.

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Studies of

Examples of pictorial writing.

9, Conversation; 10, Sun; 11, Star.


- 6, Eating; 7, Singing; 8, Snow;
(See exercise 2, page 325.)

From this point forward, the child's development in respect to the use of drawing as a medium of expression is of great psychological and educational interest. With a children's view to studying this matter the writer conducted drawings a series of experiments designed to determine the relation between the child's diagrams or symbols or pictures and the ideas which he seeks to convey by means of them.

Two principal lines of investigation were undertaken, each supplementing the other, the object throughout being to study

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