Friday, May 06, 2016

Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language

Deaf children signing the Star-Spangled Banner in Cinncinati, c. 1918.
(Photo: Library of Congress/ LC-DIG-npcc-33373)

The residents of Martha’s Vineyard were once fluent in their own sign language dialect, though by the ‘70s, only a few speakers remained. For two centuries Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL) was used by hearing and Deaf people alike, specifically in the Squibnocket part of the Chilmark area of the island, which was isolated by swamps and rocks. Due to inherited deafness, one out of every 25 people were deaf by the 1850s—compared with a national average of one in every 5,728 people.

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