Plains Indian Sign Language

Plains Indian Sign Language, also known as Hand Talk, is a lingua franca used pre-contact by peoples across the whole central part of the continent, from the Gulf of Mexico to Calgary, Canada. It was widely used by both hearing and deaf community members, for a variety of functions. Like the other native languages of the Americas, Plains Indian Sign Language is endangered. However, while the number of fluent signers may be quite small, Plains Indian Sign Language it is still being used to varying degrees at least by some members of some Siouan and Algonquian tribes (Davis 2015:919).

Selected Language Information

Clark, William P. 1885. The Indian Sign Language. Philadelphia: Hamersly.

Davis, Jeffrey. 2010. Hand talk: Sign language among American Indian nations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Davis, Jeffrey and Melanie Raylene McKay-Cody. 2010. Signed languages and American Indian communities: Considerations for interpreting work and research. In R. McKee and J. Davis (eds.), Sign language interpreting in multilingual, multicultural contexts. Studies in interpretation, vol. 7, 119-157. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Davis, Jeffrey. 2011. Discourse features of American Indian Sign Language. In C. Roy (ed.), Dscourse in signed languages: Sociolinguistics in Deaf communities, 179-217. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.

Davis, Jeffrey. 2015. North American Indian Sign Language. In Julie Bakken Jepsen, Goedele de Clerck, Sam Lutalo-Kiingi and William B. McGregor (eds.), Sign languages of the world: A comparative handbook, 911-932. Berlin: De Gruyer Mouton.

Farnell, Brenda. 1995. Do you see what I mean? Plains Indian sign talk and the embodiment of action. Austin: University of Texas Press.

McKay-Cody, Melanie Raylene. 1996. The Plains Indian Sign Language: A comparative study of alternate and primary sign. Doctoral dissertation, Indiana University.

Sample Archival Materials in the Native American Languages Collection


Hand Talk project

Catalogue of Endangered Languages