Hand Talk

about the book

Professor Jeffrey Davis has a forthcoming book, Hand talk: Sign Language among American Indian Nations, from Cambridge University Press. Read more...


Welcome to Hand Talk, a collection of and about American Indian Sign Language, especially Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). The purpose of this site is to make information about this endangered language available together in high quality, in some cases for the first time. For more about this site, please visit the about page.

All varieties of American Indian Sign Language are currently endangered, but prior to the cultural disruption caused by European colonization, it was commonly used across a large swath of North America from the Gulf of Mexico to Calgary, Canada, an area of over 1 million square miles. It spread so far because it was used as a lingua franca between Native American nations speaking at least 40 different languages, but it was also used within native communities as an alternative to their spoken languages and as a primary language for deaf people. The current number of signers is unknown, but it is clear that there are still a number of users across North America, both hearing and deaf.

Please visit the documents section of the site to read more about the history and linguistics of American Indian Sign Language, or the images and video sections to see samples of signing. The original source of these materials is the National Anthropological Archives & National Human Studies Film Archives at the Smithsonian Institution.

This website was developed by Jeffrey Davis with support from a 2006-2007 research fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Science Foundation for Documenting Endangered Languages (DEL). Hand talk: Sign Language among American Indian Nations is copyright Jeffrey Davis.