How the Alphabet Came to Be Used in a Sign Language

This historical account of the development of the manual alphabet in ASL (and of representational systems in other sign languages) traces fingerspelling back to the monks of the seventh century, who devised a system for representing speech without needing to speak. Many years later, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, their manual alphabet underwent significant adaptation as a result of the contact between the monks and the deaf children they tutored. This article describes the evolution of the manual alphabet from that time to the present day.