Sign Language Among North American Indians Compared With That Among Other Peoples And Deaf-Mutes
by Garrick Mallery
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- Transcriber's Note: The following notation is used for special phonetic characters: [c] = "c" with slash (cent sign) ḣ = "h" with superior dot ś = "s" with acute accent [k], [t] = inverted "k", "t" [n] = superscript "n" ē, n = "e", "n" with superior macron ĕ, ĭ = "e", "i" with superior breve In this plain ASCII version, other accented characters have not been so encoded; e.g., "abbe" has lost its acute accent. The verses in the section on GESTURES OF ACTORS are loosely quoted from "The Rosciad" by Charles Churchill, which more accurately reads: "... When to enforce some very tender part, The right hand slips by instinct on the heart, His soul, of every other thought bereft, Is anxious only where to place the left;..." -









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61. Affirmation, approving. Old Roman 286 62. Approbation. Neapolitan 286 63. Affirmation, approbation. N.A. Indian 286 64. Group. Old Greek. Facing 289 65. Negation. Dakota 290 66. Love. Modern Neapolitan 290 67. Group. Old Greek. Facing 290 68. Hesitation. Neapolitan 291 69. Wait. N.A. Indian 291 70. Question, asking. Neapolitan 291 71. Tell me. N.A. Indian 291 72. Interrogation. Australian 291 73. Pulcinella 292 74. Thief. Neapolitan 292 75. Steal. N.A. Indian 293 76. Public writer. Neapolitan group. Facing 296 77. Money. Neapolitan 297 78. "Hot Corn." Neapolitan Group. Facing 297 79. "Horn" sign. Neapolitan 298 80. Reproach. Old Roman 298 81. Marriage contract. Neapolitan group. Facing 298 82. Negation. Pai-Ute sign 299 83. Coming home of bride. Neapolitan group. Facing 299 84. Pretty. Neapolitan 300 85. "Mano in fica." Neapolitan 300 86. Snapping the fingers. Neapolitan 300 87. Joy, acclamation 300 88. Invitation to drink wine 300 89. Woman's quarrel. Neapolitan Group. Facing 301 90. Chestnut vender. Facing 301 91. Warning. Neapolitan 302 92. Justice. Neapolitan 302 93. Little. Neapolitan 302 94. Little. N.A. Indian 302 95. Little. N.A. Indian 302 96. Demonstration. Neapolitan 302 97. "Fool." Neapolitan 303 98. "Fool." Ib. 303 99. "Fool." Ib. 303 100. Inquiry. Neapolitan 303 101. Crafty, deceitful. Neapolitan 303 102. Insult. Neapolitan 304 103. Insult. Neapolitan 304 104. Silence. Neapolitan 304 105. Child. Egyptian hieroglyph 304 106. Negation. Neapolitan 305 107. Hunger. Neapolitan 305 108. Mockery. Neapolitan 305 109. Fatigue. Neapolitan 305 110. Deceit. Neapolitan 305 111. Astuteness, readiness. Neapolitan 305 112. Tree. Dakota, Hidatsa 343 113. To grow. N.A. Indian 343 114. Rain. Shoshoni, Apache 344 115. Sun. N.A. Indian 344 116. Sun. Cheyenne 344 117. Soldier. Arikara 345 118. No, negation. Egyptian 355 119. Negation. Maya 356 120. Nothing. Chinese 356 121. Child. Egyptian figurative 356 122. Child. Egyptian linear 356 123. Child. Egyptian hieratic 356 124. Son. Ancient Chinese 356 125. Son. Modern Chinese 356 126. Birth. Chinese character 356 127. Birth. Dakota 356 128. Birth, generic. N.A. Indians 357 129. Man. Mexican 357 130. Man. Chinese character 357 131. Woman. Chinese character 357 132. Woman. Ute 357 133. Female, generic. Cheyenne 357 134. To give water. Chinese character 357 135. Water, to drink. N.A. Indian 357 136. Drink. Mexican 357 137. Water. Mexican 357 138. Water, giving. Egypt 358 139. Water. Egyptian 358 140. Water, abbreviated 358 141. Water. Chinese character 358 142. To weep. Ojibwa pictograph 358 143. Force, vigor. Egyptian 358 144. Night. Egyptian 358 145. Calling upon. Egyptian figurative 359 146. Calling upon. Egyptian linear 359 147. To collect, to unite. Egyptian 359 148. Locomotion. Egyptian figurative 359 149. Locomotion. Egyptian linear 359 150. Shu[n]'-ka Lu'-ta. Dakota 365 151. "I am going to the east." Abnaki 369 152. "Am not gone far." Abnaki 369 153. "Gone far." Abnaki 370 154. "Gone five days' journey." Abnaki 370 155. Sun. N.A. Indian 370 156. Sun. Egyptian 370 157. Sun. Egyptian 370 158. Sun with rays. Ib. 371 159. Sun with rays. Ib. 371 160. Sun with rays. Moqui pictograph 371 161. Sun with rays. Ib. 371 162. Sun with rays. Ib. 371 163. Sun with rays. Ib. 371 164. Star. Moqui pictograph 371 165. Star. Moqui pictograph 371 166. Star. Moqui pictograph 371 167. Star. Moqui pictograph 371 168. Star. Peruvian pictograph 371 169. Star. Ojibwa pictograph 371 170. Sunrise. Moqui do. 371 171. Sunrise. Ib. 371 172. Sunrise. Ib. 371 173. Moon, month. Californian pictograph 371 174. Pictograph, including sun. Coyotero Apache 372 175. Moon. N.A. Indian 372 176. Moon. Moqui pictograph 372 177. Moon. Ojibwa pictograph 372 178. Sky. Ib. 372 179. Sky. Egyptian character 372 180. Clouds. Moqui pictograph 372 181. Clouds. Ib. 372 182. Clouds. Ib. 372 183. Cloud. Ojibwa pictograph 372 184. Rain. New Mexican pictograph 373 185. Rain. Moqui pictograph 373 186. Lightning. Moqui pictograph 373 187. Lightning. Ib. 373 188. Lightning, harmless. Pictograph at Jemez, N.M. 373 189. Lightning, fatal. Do. 373 190. Voice. "The-Elk-that-hollows-walking" 373 191. Voice. Antelope. Cheyenne drawing 373 192. Voice, talking. Cheyenne drawing 374 193. Killing the buffalo. Cheyenne drawing 375 194. Talking. Mexican pictograph 376 195. Talking, singing. Maya character 376 196. Hearing ears. Ojibwa pictograph 376 197. "I hear, but your words are from a bad heart." Ojibwa 376 198. Hearing serpent. Ojibwa pictograph 376 199. Royal edict. Maya 377 200. To kill. Dakota 377 201. "Killed Arm." Dakota 377 202. Pictograph, including "kill." Wyoming Ter. 378 203. Pictograph, including "kill." Wyoming Ter. 378 204. Pictograph, including "kill." Wyoming Ter. 379 205. Veneration. Egyptian character 379 206. Mercy. Supplication, favor. Egyptian 379 207. Supplication. Mexican pictograph 380 208. Smoke. Ib. 380 209. Fire. Ib. 381 210. "Making medicine." Conjuration. Dakota 381 211. Meda. Ojibwa pictograph 381 212. The God Knuphis. Egyptian 381 213. The God Knuphis. Ib. 381 214. Power. Ojibwa pictograph 381 215. Meda's Power. Ib. 381 216. Trade pictograph 382 217. Offering. Mexican pictograph 382 218. Stampede of horses. Dakota 382 219. Chapultepec. Mexican pictograph 383 220. Soil. Ib. 383 221. Cultivated soil. Ib. 383 222. Road, path. Ib. 383 223. Cross-roads and gesture sign. Mexican pictograph 383 224. Small-pox or measles. Dakota 383 225. "No thoroughfare." Pictograph 383 226. Raising of war party. Dakota 384 227. "Led four war parties." Dakota drawing 384 228. Sociality. Friendship. Ojibwa pictograph 384 229. Peace. Friendship. Dakota 384 230. Peace. Friendship with whites. Dakota 385 231. Friendship. Australian 385 232. Friend. Brule Dakota 386 233. Lie, falsehood. Arikara 393 234. Antelope. Dakota 410 235. Running Antelope. Personal totem 410 236. Bad. Dakota 411 237. Bear. Cheyenne 412 238. Bear. Kaiowa, etc. 413 239. Bear. Ute 413 240. Bear. Moqui pictograph 413 241. Brave. N.A. Indian 414 242. Brave. Kaiowa, etc. 415 243. Brave. Kaiowa, etc. 415 244. Chief. Head of tribe. Absaroka 418 245. Chief. Head of tribe. Pai-Ute 418 246. Chief of a band. Absaroka and Arikara 419 247. Chief of a band. Pai-Ute 419 248. Warrior. Absaroka, etc. 420 249. Ojibwa gravestone, including "dead" 422 250. Dead. Shoshoni and Banak 422 251. Dying. Kaiowa, etc. 424 252. Nearly dying. Kaiowa 424 253. Log house. Hidatsa 428 254. Lodge. Dakota 430 255. Lodge. Kaiowa, etc. 431 256. Lodge. Sahaptin 431 257. Lodge. Pai-Ute 431 258. Lodge. Pai-Ute 431 259. Lodge. Kutchin 431 260. Horse. N.A. Indian 434 261. Horse. Dakota 434 262. Horse. Kaiowa, etc. 435 263. Horse. Caddo 435 264. Horse. Pima and Papago 435 265. Horse. Ute 435 266. Horse. Ute 435 267. Saddling a horse. Ute 437 268. Kill. N.A. Indian 438 269. Kill. Mandan and Hidatsa 439 270. Negation. No. Dakota 441 271. Negation. No. Pai-Ute 442 272. None. Dakota 443 273. None. Australian 444 274. Much, quantity. Apache 447 275. Question. Australian 449 276. Soldier. Dakota and Arikara 450 277. Trade. Dakota 452 278. Trade. Dakota 452 279. Buy. Ute 453 280. Yes, affirmation. Dakota 456 281. Absaroka tribal sign. Shoshoni 458 282. Apache tribal sign. Kaiowa, etc. 459 283. Apache tribal sign. Pima and Papago 459 284. Arikara tribal sign. Arapaho and Dakota 461 285. Arikara tribal sign. Absaroka 461 286. Blackfoot tribal sign. Dakota 463 287. Blackfoot tribal sign. Shoshoni 464 288. Caddo tribal sign. Arapaho and Kaiowa 464 289. Cheyenne tribal sign. Arapaho and Cheyenne 464 290. Dakota tribal sign. Dakota 467 291. Flathead tribal sign. Shoshoni 468 292. Kaiowa tribal sign. Comanche 470 293. Kutine tribal sign. Shoshoni 471 294. Lipan tribal sign. Apache 471 295. Pend d'Oreille tribal sign. Shoshoni 473 296. Sahaptin or Nez Perce tribal sign. Comanche 473 297. Shoshoni tribal sign. Shoshoni 474 298. Buffalo. Dakota 477 299. Eagle Tail. Arikara 477 300. Eagle Tail. Moqui pictograph 477 301. Give me. Absaroka 480 302. Counting. How many? Shoshoni and Banak 482 303. I am going home. Dakota 485 304. Question. Apache 486 305. Shoshoni tribal sign. Shoshoni 486 306. Chief. Shoshoni 487 307. Cold, winter, year. Apache 487 308. "Six." Shoshoni 487 309. Good, very well. Apache 487 310. Many. Shoshoni 488 311. Hear, heard. Apache 488 312. Night. Shoshoni 489 313. Rain. Shoshoni 489 314. See each other. Shoshoni 490 315. White man, American. Dakota 491 316. Hear, heard. Dakota 492 317. Brother. Pai-Ute 502 318. No, negation. Pai-Ute 503 319. Scene of Na-wa-gi-jig's story. Facing 508 320. We are friends. Wichita 521 321. Talk, talking. Wichita 521 322. I stay, or I stay right here. Wichita 521 323. A long time. Wichita 522 324. Done, finished. Do. 522 325. Sit down. Australian 523 326. Cut down. Wichita 524 327. Wagon. Wichita 525 328. Load upon. Wichita 525 329. White man; American. Hidatsa 526 330. With us. Hidatsa 526 331. Friend. Hidatsa 527 332. Four. Hidatsa 527 333. Lie, falsehood. Hidatsa 528 334. Done, finished. Hidatsa 528 335. Peace, friendship. Hualpais. Facing 530 336. Question, ans'd by tribal sign for Pani. Facing 531 337. Buffalo discovered. Dakota. Facing 532 338. Discovery. Dakota. Facing 533 339. Success of war party. Pima. Facing 538 340. Outline for arm positions, full face 545 341. Outline for arm positions, profile 545 342a. Types of hand positions, A to L 547 342b. Types of hand positions, M to Y 548 343. Example. To cut with an ax 550 344. Example. A lie 550 345. Example. To ride 551 346. Example. I am going home 551

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During the past two years the present writer has devoted the intervals between official duties to collecting and collating materials for the study of sign language. As the few publications on the general subject, possessing more than historic interest, are meager in details and vague in expression, original investigation has been necessary. The high development of communication by gesture among the tribes of North America, and its continued extensive use by many of them, naturally directed the first researches to that continent, with the result that a large body of facts procured from collaborators and by personal examination has now been gathered and classified. A correspondence has also been established with many persons in other parts of the world whose character and situation rendered it probable that they would contribute valuable information. The success of that correspondence has been as great as could have been expected, considering that most of the persons addressed were at distant points sometimes not easily accessible by mail. As the collection of facts is still successfully proceeding, not only with reference to foreign peoples and to deaf-mutes everywhere, but also among some American tribes not yet thoroughly examined in this respect, no exposition of the subject pretending to be complete can yet be made. In complying, therefore, with the request to prepare the present paper, it is necessary to explain to correspondents and collaborators whom it may reach, that this is not the comprehensive publication by the Bureau of Ethnology for which their assistance has been solicited. With this explanation some of those who have already forwarded contributions will not be surprised at their omission, and others will not desist from the work in which they are still kindly engaged, under the impression that its results will not be received in time to meet with welcome and credit. On the contrary, the urgent appeal for aid before addressed to officers of the Army and Navy of this and other nations, to missionaries, travelers, teachers of deaf-mutes, and philologists generally, is now with equal urgency repeated. It is, indeed, hoped that the continued presentation of the subject to persons either having opportunity for observation or the power to favor with suggestions may, by awakening some additional interest in it, secure new collaboration from localities still unrepresented.

It will be readily understood by other readers that, as the limits assigned to this paper permit the insertion of but a small part of the material already collected and of the notes of study made upon that accumulation, it can only show the general scope of the work undertaken, and not its accomplishment. Such extracts from the collection have been selected as were regarded as most illustrative, and they are preceded by a discussion perhaps sufficient to be suggestive, though by no means exhaustive, and designed to be for popular, rather than for scientific use. In short, the direction to submit a progress-report and not a monograph has been complied with.


These are corporeal motion and facial expression. An attempt has been made by some writers to discuss these general divisions separately, and its success would be practically convenient if it were always understood that their connection is so intimate that they can never be altogether severed. A play of feature, whether instinctive or voluntary, accentuates and qualifies all motions intended to serve as signs, and strong instinctive facial expression is generally accompanied by action of the body or some of its members. But, so far as a distinction can be made, expressions of the features are the result of emotional, and corporeal gestures, of intellectual action. The former in general and the small number of the latter that are distinctively emotional are nearly identical among men from physiological causes which do not affect with the same similarity the processes of thought. The large number of corporeal gestures expressing intellectual operations require and admit of more variety and conventionality. Thus the features and the body among all mankind act almost uniformly in exhibiting fear, grief, surprise, and shame, but all objective conceptions are varied and variously portrayed. Even such simple indications as those for "no" and "yes" appear in several differing motions. While, therefore, the terms sign language and gesture speech necessarily include and suppose facial expression when emotions are in question, they refer more particularly to corporeal motions and attitudes. For this reason much of the valuable contribution of DARWIN in his Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is not directly applicable to sign language. His analysis of emotional gestures into those explained on the principles of serviceable associated habits, of antithesis, and of the constitution of the nervous system, should, nevertheless, always be remembered. Even if it does not strictly embrace the class of gestures which form the subject of this paper, and which often have an immediate pantomimic origin, the earliest gestures were doubtless instinctive and generally emotional, preceding pictorial, metaphoric, and, still subsequent, conventional gestures even, as, according to DARWIN's cogent reasoning, they preceded articulate speech.

While the distinction above made between the realm of facial play and that of motions of the body, especially those of the arms and hands, is sufficiently correct for use in discussion, it must be admitted that the features do express intellect as well as emotion. The well-known saying of Charles Lamb that "jokes came in with the candles" is in point, but the most remarkable example of conveying detailed information without the use of sounds, hands, or arms, is given by the late President T.H. Gallaudet, the distinguished instructor of deaf-mutes, which, to be intelligible, requires to be quoted at length:

"One day, our distinguished and lamented historical painter, Col. John Trumbull, was in my school-room during the hours of instruction, and, on my alluding to the tact which the pupil referred to had of reading my face, he expressed a wish to see it tried. I requested him to select any event in Greek, Roman, English, or American history of a scenic character, which would make a striking picture on canvas, and said I would endeavor to communicate it to the lad. 'Tell him,' said he, 'that Brutus (Lucius Junius) condemned his two sons to death for resisting his authority and violating his orders.'

"I folded my arms in front of me, and kept them in that position, to preclude the possibility of making any signs or gestures, or of spelling any words on my fingers, and proceeded, as best I could, by the expression of my countenance, and a few motions of my head and attitudes of the body, to convey the picture in my own mind to the mind of my pupil.

"It ought to be stated that he was already acquainted with the fact, being familiar with the leading events in Roman history. But when I began, he knew not from what portion of history, sacred or profane, ancient or modern, the fact was selected. From this wide range, my delineation on the one hand and his ingenuity on the other had to bring it within the division of Roman history, and, still more minutely, to the particular individual and transaction designated by Colonel Trumbull. In carrying on the process, I made no use whatever of any arbitrary, conventional look, motion, or attitude, before settled between us, by which to let him understand what I wished to communicate, with the exception of a single one, if, indeed, it ought to be considered such.

"The usual sign, at that time, among the teachers and pupils, for a Roman, was portraying an aquiline nose by placing the forefinger, crooked, in front of the nose. As I was prevented from using my finger in this way, and having considerable command over the muscles of my face, I endeavored to give my nose as much of the aquiline form as possible, and succeeded well enough for my purpose....

"The outlines of the process were the following:

"A stretching and stretching gaze eastward, with an undulating motion of the head, as if looking across and beyond the Atlantic Ocean, to denote that the event happened, not on the western, but eastern continent. This was making a little progress, as it took the subject out of the range of American history.

"A turning of the eyes upward and backward, with frequently-repeated motions of the head backward, as if looking a great way back in past time, to denote that the event was one of ancient date.

"The aquiline shape of the nose, already referred to, indicating that a Roman was the person concerned. It was, of course, an old Roman.

"Portraying, as well as I could, by my countenance, attitude, and manner an individual high in authority, and commanding others, as if he expected to be obeyed.

"Looking and acting as if I were giving out a specific order to many persons, and threatening punishment on those who should resist my authority, even the punishment of death.

"Here was a pause in the progress of events, which I denoted by sleeping as it were during the night and awakening in the morning, and doing this several times, to signify that several days had elapsed.

"Looking with deep interest and surprise, as if at a single person brought and standing before me, with an expression of countenance indicating that he had violated the order which I had given, and that I knew it. Then looking in the same way at another person near him as also guilty. Two offending persons were thus denoted.

"Exhibiting serious deliberation, then hesitation, accompanied with strong conflicting emotions, producing perturbation, as if I knew not how to feel or what to do.

"Looking first at one of the persons before me, and then at the other, and then at both together, as a father would look, indicating his distressful parental feelings under such afflicting circumstances.

"Composing my feelings, showing that a change was coming over me, and exhibiting towards the imaginary persons before me the decided look of the inflexible commander, who was determined and ready to order them away to execution. Looking and acting as if the tender and forgiving feelings of the father had again got the ascendency, and as if I was about to relent and pardon them.

"These alternating states of mind I portrayed several times, to make my representations the more graphic and impressive.

"At length the father yields, and the stern principle of justice, as expressed in my countenance and manners, prevails. My look and action denote the passing of the sentence of death on the offenders, and the ordering them away to execution.

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"He quickly turned round to his slate and wrote a correct and complete account of this story of Brutus and his two sons."

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While it appears that the expressions of the features are not confined to the emotions or to distinguishing synonyms, it must be remembered that the meaning of the same motion of hands, arms, and fingers is often modified, individualized, or accentuated by associated facial changes and postures of the body not essential to the sign, which emotional changes and postures are at once the most difficult to describe and the most interesting when intelligently reported, not only because they infuse life into the skeleton sign, but because they may belong to the class of innate expressions.


In observing the maxim that nothing can be thoroughly understood unless its beginning is known, it becomes necessary to examine into the origin of sign language through its connection with that of oral speech. In this examination it is essential to be free from the vague popular impression that some oral language, of the general character of that now used among mankind, is "natural" to mankind. It will be admitted on reflection that all oral languages were at some past time far less serviceable to those using them than they are now, and as each particular language has been thoroughly studied it has become evident that it grew out of some other and less advanced form. In the investigation of these old forms it has been so difficult to ascertain how any of them first became a useful instrument of inter-communication that many conflicting theories on this subject have been advocated.

Oral language consists of variations and mutations of vocal sounds produced as signs of thought and emotion. But it is not enough that those signs should be available as the vehicle of the producer's own thoughts. They must be also efficient for the communication of such thoughts to others. It has been, until of late years, generally held that thought was not possible without oral language, and that, as man was supposed to have possessed from the first the power of thought, he also from the first possessed and used oral language substantially as at present. That the latter, as a special faculty, formed the main distinction between man and the brutes has been and still is the prevailing doctrine. In a lecture delivered before the British Association in 1878 it was declared that "animal intelligence is unable to elaborate that class of abstract ideas, the formation of which depends upon the faculty of speech." If instead of "speech" the word "utterance" had been used, as including all possible modes of intelligent communication, the statement might pass without criticism. But it may be doubted if there is any more necessary connection between abstract ideas and sounds, the mere signs of thought, that strike the ear, than there is between the same ideas and signs addressed only to the eye.

The point most debated for centuries has been, not whether there was any primitive oral language, but what that language was. Some literalists have indeed argued from the Mosaic narrative that because the Creator, by one supernatural act, with the express purpose to form separate peoples, had divided all tongues into their present varieties, and could, by another similar exercise of power, obliterate all but one which should be universal, the fact that he had not exercised that power showed it not to be his will that any man to whom a particular speech had been given should hold intercourse with another miraculously set apart from him by a different speech. By this reasoning, if the study of a foreign tongue was not impious, it was at least clear that the primitive language had been taken away as a disciplinary punishment, as the Paradisiac Eden had been earlier lost, and that, therefore, the search for it was as fruitless as to attempt the passage of the flaming sword. More liberal Christians have been disposed to regard the Babel story as allegorical, if not mythical, and have considered it to represent the disintegration of tongues out of one which was primitive. In accordance with the advance of linguistic science they have successively shifted back the postulated primitive tongue from Hebrew to Sanscrit, then to Aryan, and now seek to evoke from the vasty deeps of antiquity the ghosts of other rival claimants for precedence in dissolution. As, however, the languages of man are now recognized as extremely numerous, and as the very sounds of which these several languages are composed are so different that the speakers of some are unable to distinguish with the ear certain sounds in others, still less able to reproduce them, the search for one common parent language is more difficult than was supposed by mediaeval ignorance.

The discussion is now, however, varied by the suggested possibility that man at some time may have existed without any oral language. It is conceded by some writers that mental images or representations can be formed without any connection with sound, and may at least serve for thought, though not for expression. It is certain that concepts, however formed, can be expressed by other means than sound. One mode of this expression is by gesture, and there is less reason to believe that gestures commenced as the interpretation of, or substitute for words than that the latter originated in, and served to translate gestures. Many arguments have been advanced to prove that gesture language preceded articulate speech and formed the earliest attempt at communication, resulting from the interacting subjective and objective conditions to which primitive man was exposed. Some of the facts on which deductions have been based, made in accordance with well-established modes of scientific research from study of the lower animals, children, idiots, the lower types of mankind, and deaf-mutes, will be briefly mentioned.


Emotional expression in the features of man is to be considered in reference to the fact that the special senses either have their seat in, or are in close relation to the face, and that so large a number of nerves pass to it from the brain. The same is true of the lower animals, so that it would be inferred, as is the case, that the faces of those animals are also expressive of emotion. There is also noticed among them an exhibition of emotion by corporeal action. This is the class of gestures common to them with the earliest made by man, as above mentioned, and it is reasonable to suppose that those were made by man at the time when, if ever, he was, like the animals, destitute of articulate speech. The articulate cries uttered by some animals, especially some birds, are interesting as connected with the principle of imitation to which languages in part owe their origin, but in the cases of forced imitation, the mere acquisition of a vocal trick, they only serve to illustrate that power of imitation, and are without significance. Sterne's starling, after his cage had been opened, would have continued to complain that he could not get out. If the bird had uttered an instinctive cry of distress when in confinement and a note of joy on release, there would have been a nearer approach to language than if it had clearly pronounced many sentences. Such notes and cries of animals, many of which are connected with reproduction and nutrition, are well worth more consideration than can now be given, but regarding them generally it is to be questioned if they are so expressive as the gestures of the same animals. It is contended that the bark of a dog is distinguishable into fear, defiance, invitation, and a note of warning, but it also appears that those notes have been known only since the animal has been domesticated. The gestures of the dog are far more readily distinguished than his bark, as in his preparing for attack, or caressing his master, resenting an injury, begging for food, or simply soliciting attention. The chief modern use of his tail appears to be to express his ideas and sensations. But some recent experiments of Prof. A. GRAHAM BELL, no less eminent from his work in artificial speech than in telephones, shows that animals are more physically capable of pronouncing articulate sounds than has been supposed. He informed the writer that he recently succeeded by manipulation in causing an English terrier to form a number of the sounds of our letters, and particularly brought out from it the words "How are you, Grandmamma?" with distinctness. This tends to prove that only absence of brain power has kept animals from acquiring true speech. The remarkable vocal instrument of the parrot could be used in significance as well as in imitation, if its brain had been developed beyond the point of expression by gesture, in which latter the bird is expert.

The gestures of monkeys, whose hands and arms can be used, are nearly akin to ours. Insects communicate with each other almost entirely by means of the antennae. Animals in general which, though not deaf, can not be taught by sound, frequently have been by signs, and probably all of them understand man's gestures better than his speech. They exhibit signs to one another with obvious intention, and they also have often invented them as a means of obtaining their wants from man.


The wishes and emotions of very young children are conveyed in a small number of sounds, but in a great variety of gestures and facial expressions. A child's gestures are intelligent long in advance of speech; although very early and persistent attempts are made to give it instruction in the latter but none in the former, from the time when it begins risu cognoscere matrem. It learns words only as they are taught, and learns them through the medium of signs which are not expressly taught. Long after familiarity with speech, it consults the gestures and facial expressions of its parents and nurses as if seeking thus to translate or explain their words. These facts are important in reference to the biologic law that the order of development of the individual is the same as that of the species.

Among the instances of gestures common to children throughout the world is that of protruding the lips, or pouting, when somewhat angry or sulky. The same gesture is now made by the anthropoid apes and is found strongly marked in the savage tribes of man. It is noticed by evolutionists that animals retain during early youth, and subsequently lose, characters once possessed by their progenitors when adult, and still retained by distinct species nearly related to them.

The fact is not, however, to be ignored that children invent words as well as signs with as natural an origin for the one as for the other. An interesting case was furnished to the writer by Prof. BELL of an infant boy who used a combination of sounds given as "nyum-nyum," an evident onomatope of gustation, to mean "good," and not only in reference to articles of food relished but as applied to persons of whom the child was fond, rather in the abstract idea of "niceness" in general. It is a singular coincidence that a bright young girl, a friend of the writer, in a letter describing a juvenile feast, invented the same expression, with nearly the same spelling, as characteristic of her sensations regarding the delicacies provided. The Papuans met by Dr. Comrie also called "eating" nam-nam. But the evidence of all such cases of the voluntary use of articulate speech by young children is qualified by the fact that it has been inherited from very many generations, if not quite so long as the faculty of gesture.


The insane understand and obey gestures when they have no knowledge whatever of words. It is also found that semi-idiotic children who cannot be taught more than the merest rudiments of speech, can receive a considerable amount of information through signs, and can express themselves by them. Sufferers from aphasia continue to use appropriate gestures after their words have become uncontrollable. It is further noticeable in them that mere ejaculations, or sounds which are only the result of a state of feeling, instead of a desire to express thought, are generally articulated with accuracy. Patients who have been in the habit of swearing preserve their fluency in that division of their vocabulary.


The signs made by congenital and uninstructed deaf-mutes to be now considered are either strictly natural signs, invented by themselves, or those of a colloquial character used by such mutes where associated. The accidental or merely suggestive signs peculiar to families, one member of which happens to be a mute, are too much affected by the other members of the family to be of certain value. Those, again, which are taught in institutions have become conventional and designedly adapted to translation into oral speech, although founded by the abbe de l'Epee, followed by the abbe Sicard, in the natural signs first above mentioned.

A great change has doubtless occurred in the estimation of congenital deaf-mutes since the Justinian Code, which consigned them forever to legal infancy, as incapable of intelligence, and classed them with the insane. Yet most modern writers, for instance Archbishop Whately and Max Mueller, have declared that deaf-mutes could not think until after having been instructed. It cannot be denied that the deaf-mute thinks after his instruction either in the ordinary gesture signs or in the finger alphabet, or more lately in artificial speech. By this instruction he has become master of a highly-developed language, such as English or French, which he can read, write, and actually talk, but that foreign language he has obtained through the medium of signs. This is a conclusive proof that signs constitute a real language and one which admits of thought, for no one can learn a foreign language unless he had some language of his own, whether by descent or acquisition, by which it could be translated, and such translation into the new language could not even be commenced unless the mind had been already in action and intelligently using the original language for that purpose. In fact the use by deaf-mutes of signs originating in themselves exhibits a creative action of mind and innate faculty of expression beyond that of ordinary speakers who acquired language without conscious effort. The thanks of students, both of philology and psychology, are due to Prof. SAMUEL PORTER, of the National Deaf Mute College, for his response to the question, "Is thought possible without language?" published in the Princeton Review for January, 1880.

With regard to the sounds uttered by deaf-mutes, the same explanation of heredity may be made as above, regarding the words invented by young children. Congenital deaf-mutes at first make the same sounds as hearing children of the same age, and, often being susceptible to vibrations of the air, are not suspected of being deaf. When that affliction is ascertained to exist, all oral utterances from the deaf-mute are habitually repressed by the parents.


The facial expressions and gestures of the congenitally blind are worthy of attention. The most interesting and conclusive examples come from the case of Laura Bridgman, who, being also deaf, could not possibly have derived them by imitation. When a letter from a beloved friend was communicated to her by gesture-language, she laughed and clapped her hands. A roguish expression was given to her face, concomitant with the emotion, by her holding the lower lip by the teeth. She blushed, shrugged her shoulders, turned in her elbows, and raised her eye-brows under the same circumstances as other people. In amazement, she rounded and protruded the lips, opened them, and breathed strongly. It is remarkable that she constantly accompanied her "yes" with the common affirmative nod, and her "no" with our negative shake of the head, as these gestures are by no means universal and do not seem clearly connected with emotion. This, possibly, may be explained by the fact that her ancestors for many generations had used these gestures. A similar curious instance is mentioned by Cardinal Wiseman (Essays, III, 547, London, 1853) of an Italian blind man, the appearance of whose eyes indicated that he had never enjoyed sight, and who yet made the same elaborate gestures made by the people with whom he lived, but which had been used by them immemorially, as correctly as if he had learned them by observation.


When human beings have been long in solitary confinement, been abandoned, or otherwise have become isolated from their fellows, they have lost speech either partially or entirely, and required to have it renewed through gestures. There are also several recorded cases of children, born with all their faculties, who, after having been lost or abandoned, have been afterwards found to have grown up possessed of acute hearing, but without anything like human speech. One of these was Peter, "the Wild Boy," who was found in the woods of Hanover in 1726, and taken to England, where vain attempts were made to teach him language, though he lived to the age of seventy. Another was a boy of twelve, found in the forest of Aveyron, in France, about the beginning of this century, who was destitute of speech, and all efforts to teach him failed. Some of these cases are to be considered in connection with the general law of evolution, that in degeneration the last and highest acquirements are lost first. When in these the effort at acquiring or re-acquiring speech has been successful, it has been through gestures, in the same manner as missionaries, explorers, and shipwrecked mariners have become acquainted with tongues before unknown to themselves and sometimes to civilization. All persons in such circumstances are obliged to proceed by pointing to objects and making gesticulations, at the same time observing what articulate sounds were associated with those motions by the persons addressed, and thus vocabularies and lists of phrases were formed.


Apart from the establishment of a systematic language of signs under special circumstances which have occasioned its development, the gestures of the lower tribes of men may be generally classed under the emotional or instinctive division, which can be correlated with those of the lower animals. This may be illustrated by the modes adopted to show friendship in salutation, taking the place of our shaking hands. Some Pacific Islanders used to show their joy at meeting friends by sniffing at them, after the style of well-disposed dogs. The Fuegians pat and slap each other, and some Polynesians stroke their own faces with the hand or foot of the friend. The practice of rubbing or pressing noses is very common. It has been noticed in the Lapland Alps, often in Africa, and in Australia the tips of the noses are pressed a long time, accompanied with grunts of satisfaction. Patting and stroking different parts of the body are still more frequent, and prevailed among the North American Indians, though with the latter the most common expression was hugging. In general, the civilities exchanged are similar to those of many animals.


Persons of limited vocabulary, whether foreigners to the tongue employed or native, but not accomplished in its use, even in the midst of a civilization where gestures are deprecated, when at fault for words resort instinctively to physical motions that are not wild nor meaningless, but picturesque and significant, though perhaps made by the gesturer for the first time. An uneducated laborer, if good-natured enough to be really desirous of responding to a request for information, when he has exhausted his scanty stock of words will eke them out by original gestures. While fully admitting the advice to Coriolanus—

Action is eloquence, and the eyes of the ignorant More learned than the ears—

it may be paraphrased to read that the hands of the ignorant are more learned than their tongues. A stammerer, too, works his arms and features as if determined to get his thoughts out, in a manner not only suggestive of the physical struggle, but of the use of gestures as a hereditary expedient.


The same is true of the most fluent talkers on occasions when the exact vocal formula desired does not at once suggest itself, or is unsatisfactory without assistance from the physical machinery not embraced in the oral apparatus. The command of a copious vocabulary common to both speaker and hearer undoubtedly tends to a phlegmatic delivery and disdain of subsidiary aid. An excited speaker will, however, generally make a free use of his hands without regard to any effect of that use upon auditors. Even among the gesture-hating English, when they are aroused from torpidity of manner, the hands are involuntarily clapped in approbation, rubbed with delight, wrung in distress, raised in astonishment, and waved in triumph. The fingers are snapped for contempt, the forefinger is vibrated to reprove or threaten, and the fist shaken in defiance. The brow is contracted with displeasure, and the eyes winked to show connivance. The shoulders are shrugged to express disbelief or repugnance, the eyebrows elevated with surprise, the lips bitten in vexation and thrust out in sullenness or displeasure, while a higher degree of anger is shown by a stamp of the foot. Quintilian, regarding the subject, however, not as involuntary exhibition of feeling and intellect, but for illustration and enforcement, becomes eloquent on the variety of motions of which the hands alone are capable, as follows:

"The action of the other parts of the body assists the speaker, but the hands (I could almost say) speak themselves. By them do we not demand, promise, call, dismiss, threaten, supplicate, express abhorrence and terror, question and deny? Do we not by them express joy and sorrow, doubt, confession, repentance, measure, quantity, number, and time? Do they not also encourage, supplicate, restrain, convict, admire, respect? and in pointing out places and persons do they not discharge the office of adverbs and of pronouns?"

Voss adopts almost the words of Quintilian, "Manus non modo loquentem adjuvant, sed ipsae pene loqui videntur," while Cresollius calls the hand "the minister of reason and wisdom ... without it there is no eloquence."


Further evidence of the unconscious survival of gesture language is afforded by the ready and involuntary response made in signs to signs when a man with the speech and habits of civilization is brought into close contact with Indians or deaf-mutes. Without having ever before seen or made one of their signs, he will soon not only catch the meaning of theirs, but produce his own, which they will likewise comprehend, the power seemingly remaining latent in him until called forth by necessity.


In the earliest part of man's history the subjects of his discourse must have been almost wholly sensuous, and therefore readily expressed in pantomime. Not only was pantomime sufficient for all the actual needs of his existence, but it is not easy to imagine how he could have used language such as is now known to us. If the best English dictionary and grammar had been miraculously furnished to him, together with the art of reading with proper pronunciation, the gift would have been valueless, because the ideas expressed by the words had not yet been formed.

That the early concepts were of a direct and material character is shown by what has been ascertained of the roots of language, and there does not appear to be much difficulty in expressing by other than vocal instrumentality all that could have been expressed by those roots. Even now, with our vastly increased belongings of external life, avocations, and habits, nearly all that is absolutely necessary for our physical needs can be expressed in pantomime. Far beyond the mere signs for eating, drinking, sleeping, and the like, any one will understand a skillful representation in signs of a tailor, shoemaker, blacksmith, weaver, sailor, farmer, or doctor. So of washing, dressing, shaving, walking, driving, writing, reading, churning, milking, boiling, roasting or frying, making bread or preparing coffee, shooting, fishing, rowing, sailing, sawing, planing, boring, and, in short, an endless list.

Max Mueller properly calls touch, scent, and taste the palaioteric, and sight and hearing the neoteric senses, the latter of which often require to be verified by the former. Touch is the lowest in specialization and development, and is considered to be the oldest of the senses, the others indeed being held by some writers to be only its modifications. Scent, of essential importance to many animals, has with man almost ceased to be of any, except in connection with taste, which he has developed to a high degree. Whether or not sight preceded hearing in order of development, it is difficult, in conjecturing the first attempts of man or his hypothetical ancestor at the expression either of percepts or concepts, to connect vocal sounds with any large number of objects, but it is readily conceivable that the characteristics of their forms and movements should have been suggested to the eye—fully exercised before the tongue—so soon as the arms and fingers became free for the requisite simulation or portrayal. There is little distinction between pantomime and a developed sign language, in which thought is transmitted rapidly and certainly from hand to eye as it is in oral speech from lips to ear; the former is, however, the parent of the latter, which is more abbreviated and less obvious. Pantomime acts movements, reproduces forms and positions, presents pictures, and manifests emotions with greater realization than any other mode of utterance. It may readily be supposed that a troglodyte man would desire to communicate the finding of a cave in the vicinity of a pure pool, circled with soft grass, and shaded by trees bearing edible fruit. No sound of nature is connected with any of those objects, but the position and size of the cave, its distance and direction, the water, its quality, and amount, the verdant circling carpet, and the kind and height of the trees could have been made known by pantomime in the days of the mammoth, if articulate speech had not then been established, as Indians or deaf-mutes now communicate similar information by the same agency.

The proof of this fact, as regards deaf-mutes, will hardly be demanded, as their expressive pantomime has been so often witnessed. That of the North American Indians, as distinct from the signs which are generally its abbreviations, has been frequently described in general terms, but it may be interesting to present two instances from remote localities.

A Maricopa Indian, in the present limits of Arizona, was offered an advantageous trade for his horse, whereupon he stretched himself on his horse's neck, caressed it tenderly, at the same time shutting his eyes, meaning thereby that no offer could tempt him to part with his charger.

An A-tco-ma-wi or Pit River Indian, in Northeastern California, to explain the cause of his cheeks and forehead being covered with tar, represented a man falling, and, despite his efforts to save him, trembling, growing pale (pointing from his face to that of a white man), and sinking to sleep, his spirit winging its way to the skies, which he indicated by imitating with his hands the flight of a bird upwards, his body sleeping still upon the river bank, to which he pointed. The tar upon his face was thus shown to be his dress of mourning for a friend who had fallen and died.

Several descriptions of pure pantomime, intermixed with the more conventionalized signs, will be found in the present paper. In especial, reference is made to the Address of Kin Chē-ĕss, Natci's Narrative, the Dialogue between Alaskan Indians, and Na-wa-gi-jig's Story.


Cresollius, writing in 1620, was strongly in favor of giving precedence to gesture. He says, "Man, full of wisdom and divinity, could have appeared nothing superior to a naked trunk or block had he not been adorned with the hand as the interpreter and messenger of his thoughts." He quotes with approval the brother of St. Basil in declaring that had men been formed without hands they would never have been endowed with an articulate voice, and concludes: "Since, then, nature has furnished us with two instruments for the purpose of bringing into light and expressing the silent affections of the mind, language and the hand, it has been the opinion of learned and intelligent men that the former would be maimed and nearly useless without the latter; whereas the hand, without the aid of language, has produced many and wonderful effects."

Rabelais, who incorporated into his satirical work much true learning and philosophy, makes his hero announce the following opinion:

"Nothing less, quoth Pantagruel [Book iii, ch. xix], do I believe than that it is a mere abusing of our understandings to give credit to the words of those who say that there is any such thing as a natural language. All speeches have had their primary origin from the arbitrary institutions, accords, and agreements of nations in their respective condescendments to what should be noted and betokened by them. An articulate voice, according to the dialecticians, hath naturally no signification at all; for that the sense and meaning thereof did totally depend upon the good will and pleasure of the first deviser and imposer of it."

Max Mueller, following Professor Heyse, of Berlin, published an ingenious theory of primitive speech, to the effect that man had a creative faculty giving to each conception, as it thrilled through his brain for the first time, a special phonetic expression, which faculty became extinct when its necessity ceased. This theory, which makes each radical of language to be a phonetic type rung out from the organism of the first man or men when struck by an idea, has been happily named the "ding-dong" theory. It has been abandoned mainly through the destructive criticisms of Prof. W.D. WHITNEY, of Yale College. One lucid explanation by the latter should be specially noted: "A word is a combination of sounds which by a series of historical reasons has come to be accepted and understood in a certain community as the sign of a certain idea. As long as they so accept and understand it, it has existence; when everyone ceases to use and understand it, it ceases to exist."

Several authors, among them Kaltschmidt, contend that there was but one primitive language, which was purely onomatopoeic, that is, imitative of natural sounds. This has been stigmatized as the "bow-wow" theory, but its advocates might derive an argument from the epithet itself, as not only our children, but the natives of Papua, call the dog a "bow-wow." They have, however, gone too far in attempting to trace back words in their shape as now existing to any natural sounds instead of confining that work to the roots from which the words have sprung.

Another attempt has been made, represented by Professor Noire, to account for language by means of interjectional cries. This Max Mueller revengefully styled the "pooh-pooh" theory. In it is included the rhythmical sounds which a body of men make seemingly by a common impulse when engaged in a common work, such as the cries of sailors when hauling on a rope or pulling an oar, or the yell of savages in an attack. It also derives an argument from the impulse of life by which the child shouts and the bird sings. There are, however, very few either words or roots of words which can be proved to have that derivation.

Professor SAYCE, in his late work, Introduction to the Science of Language, London, 1880, gives the origin of language in gestures, in onomatopoeia, and to a limited extent in interjectional cries. He concludes it to be the ordinary theory of modern comparative philologists that all languages are traced back to a certain number of abstract roots, each of which was a sort of sentence in embryo, and while he does not admit this as usually presented, he believes that there was a time in the history of speech, when the articulate or semi-articulate sounds uttered by primitive men were made the significant representations of thought by the gestures with which they were accompanied. This statement is specially gratifying to the present writer as he had advanced much the same views in his first publication on the subject in the following paragraph, now reproduced with greater confidence:

"From their own failures and discordancies, linguistic scholars have recently decided that both the 'bow-wow' and the 'ding-dong' theories are unsatisfactory; that the search for imitative, onomatopoeic, and directly expressive sounds to explain the origin of human speech has been too exclusive, and that many primordial roots of language have been founded in the involuntary sounds accompanying certain actions. As, however, the action was the essential, and the consequent or concomitant sound the accident, it would be expected that a representation or feigned reproduction of the action would have been used to express the idea before the sound associated with that action could have been separated from it. The visual onomatopoeia of gestures, which even yet have been subjected to but slight artificial corruption, would therefore serve as a key to the audible. It is also contended that in the pristine days, when the sounds of the only words yet formed had close connection with objects and the ideas directly derived from them, signs were as much more copious for communication than speech, as the sight embraces more and more distinct characteristics of objects than does the sense of hearing."


The preponderance of authority is in favor of the view that man, when in the possession of all his faculties, did not choose between voice and gesture, both being originally instinctive, as they both are now, and never, with those faculties, was in a state where the one was used to the absolute exclusion of the other. The long neglected work of Dalgarno, published in 1661, is now admitted to show wisdom when he says: "non minus naturale fit homini communicare in Figuris quam Sonis: quorum utrumque dico homini naturale." With the voice man at first imitated the few sounds of nature, while with gesture he exhibited actions, motions, positions, forms, dimensions, directions, and distances, and their derivatives. It would appear from this unequal division of capacity that oral speech remained rudimentary long after gesture had become an art. With the concession of all purely imitative sounds and of the spontaneous action of the vocal organs under excitement, it is still true that the connection between ideas and words generally depended upon a compact between the speaker and hearer which presupposes the existence of a prior mode of communication. That was probably by gesture, which, in the apposite phrase of Professor SAYCE, "like the rope-bridges of the Himalayas or the Andes, formed the first rude means of communication between man and man." At the very least it may be gladly accepted provisionally as a clue leading out of the labyrinth of philologic confusion.

For the purpose of the present paper there is, however, no need of an absolute decision upon the priority between communication of ideas by bodily motion and by vocal articulation. It is enough to admit that the connection between them was so early and intimate that gestures, in the wide sense indicated of presenting ideas under physical forms, had a direct formative effect upon many words; that they exhibit the earliest condition of the human mind; are traced from the remotest antiquity among all peoples possessing records; are generally prevalent in the savage stage of social evolution; survive agreeably in the scenic pantomime, and still adhere to the ordinary speech of civilized man by motions of the face, hands, head, and body, often involuntary, often purposely in illustration or for emphasis.

It may be unnecessary to explain that none of the signs to be described, even those of present world-wide prevalence, are presented as precisely those of primitive man. Signs as well as words, animals, and plants have had their growth, development, and change, their births and deaths, and their struggle for existence with survival of the fittest. It is, however, thought probable from reasons hereinafter mentioned that their radicals can be ascertained with more precision than those of words.


There is ample evidence of record, besides that derived from other sources, that the systematic use of gesture speech was of great antiquity. Livy so declares, and Quintilian specifies that the "lex gestus ... ab illis temporibus heroicis orta est." Plato classed its practice among civil virtues, and Chrysippus gave it place among the proper education of freemen. Athenaeus tells that gestures were even reduced to distinct classification with appropriate terminology. The class suited to comedy was called Cordax, that to tragedy Eumelia, and that for satire Sicinnis, from the inventor Sicinnus. Bathyllus from these formed a fourth class, adapted to pantomime. This system appears to have been particularly applicable to theatrical performances. Quintilian, later, gave most elaborate rules for gestures in oratory, which are specially noticeable from the importance attached to the manner of disposing the fingers. He attributed to each particular disposition a significance or suitableness which are not now obvious. Some of them are retained by modern orators, but without the same, or indeed any, intentional meaning, and others are wholly disused.

The value of these digital arrangements is, however, shown by their use among the modern Italians, to whom they have directly descended. From many illustrations of this fact the following is selected. Fig. 61 is copied from Austin's Chironomia as his graphic execution of the gesture described by Quintilian: "The fore finger of the right hand joining the middle of its nail to the extremity of its own thumb, and moderately extending the rest of the fingers, is graceful in approving." Fig. 62 is taken from De Jorio's plates and descriptions of the gestures among modern Neapolitans, with the same idea of approbation—"good." Both of these may be compared with Fig. 63, a common sign among the North American Indians to express affirmation and approbation. With the knowledge of these details it is possible to believe the story of Macrobius that Cicero used to vie with Roscius, the celebrated actor, as to which of them could express a sentiment in the greater variety of ways, the one by gesture and the other by speech, with the apparent result of victory to the actor who was so satisfied with the superiority of his art that he wrote a book on the subject.

Gestures were treated of with still more distinction as connected with pantomimic dances and representations. Aeschylus appears to have brought theatrical gesture to a high degree of perfection, but Telestes, a dancer employed by him, introduced the dumb show, a dance without marked dancing steps, and subordinated to motions of the hands, arms, and body, which is dramatic pantomime. He was so great an artist, says Athenaeus, that when he represented the Seven before Thebes he rendered every circumstance manifest by his gestures alone. From Greece, or rather from Egypt, the art was brought to Rome, and in the reign of Augustus was the great delight of that Emperor and his friend Maecenas. Bathyllus, of Alexandria, was the first to introduce it to the Roman public, but he had a dangerous rival in Pylades. The latter was magnificent, pathetic, and affecting, while Bathyllus was gay and sportive. All Rome was split into factions about their respective merits. Athenaeus speaks of a distinguished performer of his own time (he died A.D. 194) named Memphis, whom he calls the "dancing philosopher," because he showed what the Pythagorean philosophy could do by exhibiting in silence everything with stronger evidence than they could who professed to teach the arts of language. In the reign of Nero, a celebrated pantomimist who had heard that the cynic philosopher Demetrius spoke of the art with contempt, prevailed upon him to witness his performance, with the result that the cynic, more and more astonished, at last cried out aloud, "Man, I not only see, but I hear what you do, for to me you appear to speak with your hands!"

Lucian, who narrates this in his work De Saltatione, gives another tribute to the talent of, perhaps, the same performer. A barbarian prince of Pontus (the story is told elsewhere of Tyridates, King of Armenia), having come to Rome to do homage to the Emperor Nero, and been taken to see the pantomimes, was asked on his departure by the Emperor what present he would have as a mark of his favor. The barbarian begged that he might have the principal pantomimist, and upon being asked why he made such an odd request, replied that he had many neighbors who spoke such various and discordant languages that he found it difficult to obtain any interpreter who could understand them or explain his commands; but if he had the dancer he could by his assistance easily make himself intelligible to all.

While the general effect of these pantomimes is often mentioned, there remain but few detailed descriptions of them. Apuleius, however, in the tenth book of his Metamorphosis or "Golden Ass," gives sufficient details of the performance of the Judgment of Paris to show that it strongly resembled the best form of ballet opera known in modern times. These exhibitions were so greatly in favor that, according to Ammianus Marcellinus, there were in Rome in the year 190 six thousand persons devoted to the art, and that when a famine raged they were all kept in the city, though besides all the strangers all the philosophers were forced to leave. Their popularity continued until the sixth century, and it is evident from a decree of Charlemagne that they were not lost, or at least, had been revived in his time. Those of us who have enjoyed the performance of the original Ravel troupe will admit that the art still survives, though not with the magnificence or perfection, especially with reference to serious subjects, which it exhibited in the age of imperial Rome.

Early and prominent among the post-classic works upon gesture is that of the venerable Bede (who flourished A.D. 672-735) De Loquela per Gestum Digitorum, sive de Indigitatione. So much discussion had indeed been carried on in reference to the use of signs for the desideratum of a universal mode of communication, which also was designed to be occult and mystic, that Rabelais, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, who, however satirical, never spent his force upon matters of little importance, devotes much attention to it. He makes his English philosopher, Thaumast "The Wonderful" declare, "I will dispute by signs only, without speaking, for the matters are so abstruse, hard, and arduous, that words proceeding from the mouth of man will never be sufficient for unfolding of them to my liking."

The earliest contributions of practical value connected with the subject were made by George Dalgarno, of Aberdeen, in two works, one published in London, 1661, entitled Ars Signorum, vulgo character universalis et lingua philosophica, and the other printed at Oxford, 1680, entitled, Didascalocophus, or the Deaf and Dumb Man's Tutor. He spent his life in obscurity, and his works, though he was incidentally mentioned by Leibnitz under the name of "M. Dalgarus," passed into oblivion. Yet he undoubtedly was the precursor of Bishop Wilkins in his Essay toward a Real Character and a Philosophical Language, published in London, 1668, though indeed the first idea was far older, it having been, as reported by Piso, the wish of Galen that some way might be found out to represent things by such peculiar signs and names as should express their natures. Dalgarno's ideas respecting the education of the dumb were also of the highest value, and though they were too refined and enlightened to be appreciated at the period when he wrote, they probably were used by Dr. Wallis if not by Sicard. Some of his thoughts should be quoted: "As I think the eye to be as docile as the ear; so neither see I any reason but the hand might be made as tractable an organ as the tongue; and as soon brought to form, if not fair, at least legible characters, as the tongue to imitate and echo back articulate sounds." A paragraph prophetic of the late success in educating blind deaf-mutes is as follows: "The soul can exert her powers by the ministry of any of the senses: and, therefore, when she is deprived of her principal secretaries, the eye and the ear, then she must be contented with the service of her lackeys and scullions, the other senses; which are no less true and faithful to their mistress than the eye and the ear; but not so quick for dispatch."

In his division of the modes of "expressing the inward emotions by outward and sensible signs" he relegates to physiology cases "when the internal passions are expressed by such external signs as have a natural connection, by way of cause and effect, with the passion they discover, as laughing, weeping, frowning, &c., and this way of interpretation being common to the brute with man belongs to natural philosophy. And because this goes not far enough to serve the rational soul, therefore, man has invented Sematology." This he divides into Pneumatology, interpretation by sounds conveyed through the ear; Schematology, by figures to the eye, and Haptology, by mutual contact, skin to skin. Schematology is itself divided into Typology or Grammatology, and Cheirology or Dactylology. The latter embraces "the transient motions of the fingers, which of all other ways of interpretation comes nearest to that of the tongue."

As a phase in the practice of gestures in lieu of speech must be mentioned the code of the Cistercian monks, who were vowed to silence except in religious exercises. That they might literally observe their vows they were obliged to invent a system of communication by signs, a list of which is given by Leibnitz, but does not show much ingenuity.

A curious description of the speech of the early inhabitants of the world, given by Swedenborg in his Arcana Coelestia, published 1749-1756, may be compared with the present exhibitions of deaf-mutes in institutions for their instruction. He says it was not articulate like the vocal speech of our time, but was tacit, being produced not by external respiration, but by internal. They were able to express their meaning by slight motions of the lips and corresponding changes of the face.

Austin's comprehensive work, Chironomia, or a Treatise on Rhetorical Delivery, London, 1806, is a repertory of information for all writers on gesture, who have not always given credit to it, as well as on all branches of oratory. This has been freely used by the present writer, as has also the volume by the canon Andrea de Jorio, La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel Gestire Napoletano, Napoli, 1832. The canon's chief object was to interpret the gestures of the ancients as shown in their works of art and described in their writings, by the modern gesticulations of the Neapolitans, and he has proved that the general system of gesture once prevailing in ancient Italy is substantially the same as now observed. With an understanding of the existing language of gesture the scenes on the most ancient Greek vases and reliefs obtain a new and interesting significance and form a connecting link between the present and prehistoric times. Two of De Jorio's plates are here reproduced, Figs. 64 and 67, with such explanation and further illustration as is required for the present subject.

The spirited figures upon the ancient vase, Fig. 64, are red upon a black ground and are described in the published account in French of the collection of Sir John Coghill, Bart., of which the following is a free translation:

Dionysos or Bacchus is represented with a strong beard, his head girt with the credemnon, clothed in a long folded tunic, above which is an ample cloak, and holding a thyrsus. Under the form of a satyr, Comus, or the genius of the table, plays on the double flute and tries to excite to the dance two nymphs, the companions of Bacchus—Galene, Tranquility, and Eudia, Serenity. The first of them is dressed in a tunic, above which is a fawn skin, holding a tympanum or classic drum on which she is about to strike, while her companion marks the time by a snapping of the fingers, which custom the author of the catalogue wisely states is still kept up in Italy in the dance of the tarantella. The composition is said to express allegorically that pure and serene pleasures are benefits derived from the god of wine.

This is a fair example of the critical acumen of art-commentators. The gestures of the two nymphs are interesting, but on very slight examination it appears that those of Galene have nothing to do with beat of drum, nor have those of Eudia any connection with music, though it is not so clear what is the true subject under discussion. Aided, however, by the light of the modern sign language of Naples, there seems to be by no means serenity prevailing, but a quarrel between the ladies, on a special subject which is not necessarily pure. The nymph at the reader's left fixes her eyes upon her companion with her index in the same direction, clearly indicating, thou. That the address is reproachful is shown from her countenance, but with greater certainty from her attitude and the corresponding one of her companion, who raises both her hands in surprise accompanied with negation. The latter is expressed by the right hand raised toward the shoulder, with the palm opposed to the person to whom response is made. This is the rejection of the idea presented, and is expressed by some of our Indians, as shown in Fig. 65. A sign of the Dakota tribe of Indians with the same signification is given in Fig. 270, page 441, infra. At the same time the upper part of the nymph's body is drawn backward as far as the preservation of equilibrium permits. So a reproach or accusation is made on the one part, and denied, whether truthfully or not, on the other. Its subject also may be ascertained. The left hand of Eudia is not mute; it is held towards her rival with the balls of the index and thumb united, the modern Neapolitan sign for love, which is drawn more clearly in Fig. 66. It is called the kissing of the thumb and finger, and there is ample authority to show that among the ancient classics it was a sign of marriage. St. Jerome, quoted by Vincenzo Requena, says: "Nam et ipsa digitorum conjunctio, et quasi molli osculo se complectans et foederans, maritum pingit et conjugem;" and Apuleius clearly alludes to the same gesture as used in the adoration of Venus, by the words "primore digito in erectum pollicem residente." The gesture is one of the few out of the large number described in various parts of Rabelais' great work, the significance of which is explained. It is made by Naz-de-cabre or Goat's Nose (Pantagruel, Book III, Ch. XX), who lifted up into the air his left hand, the whole fingers whereof he retained fistways closed together, except the thumb and the forefinger, whose nails he softly joined and coupled to one another. "I understand, quoth Pantagruel, what he meaneth by that sign. It denotes marriage." The quarrel is thus established to be about love; and the fluting satyr seated between the two nymphs, behind whose back the accusation is furtively made by the jealous one, may well be the object concerning whom jealousy is manifested. Eudia therefore, instead of "serenely" marking time for a "tranquil" tympanist, appears to be crying, "Galene! you bad thing! you are having, or trying to have, an affair with my Comus!"—an accusation which this writer verily believes to have been just. The lady's attitude in affectation of surprised denial is not that of injured innocence.

* * * * *

Fig. 67, taken from a vase in the Homeric Gallery, is rich in natural gestures. Without them, from the costumes and attitudes it is easy to recognize the protagonist or principal actor in the group, and its general subject. The warrior goddess Athene stands forth in the midst of what appears to be a council of war. After the study of modern gesture speech, the votes of each member of the council, with the degree of positiveness or interest felt by each, can be ascertained. Athene in animated motion turns her eyes to the right, and extends her left arm and hand to the left, with her right hand brandishing a lance in the same direction, in which her feet show her to be ready to spring. She is urging the figures on her right to follow her at once to attempt some dangerous enterprise. Of these the elderly man, who is calmly seated, holds his right hand flat and reversed, and suspended slightly above his knee. This probably is the ending of the modern Neapolitan gesture, Fig. 68, which signifies hesitation, advice to pause before hasty action, "go slowly," and commences higher with a gentle wavering movement downward. This can be compared with the sign of some of our Indians, Fig. 69, for wait! slowly! The female figure at the left of the group, standing firmly and decidedly, raises her left hand directed to the goddess with the palm vertical. If this is supposed to be a stationary gesture it means, "wait! stop!" It may, however, be the commencement of the last mentioned gesture, "go slow."

Both of these members of the council advise delay and express doubt of the propriety of immediate action.

The sitting warrior on the left of Athene presents his left hand flat and carried well up. This position, supposed to be stationary, now means to ask, inquire, and it may be that he inquires of the other veteran what reasons he can produce for his temporizing policy. This may be collated with the modern Neapolitan sign for ask, Fig. 70, and the common Indian sign for "tell me!" Fig. 71. In connection with this it is also interesting to compare the Australian sign for interrogation, Fig. 72, and also the Comanche Indian sign for give me, Fig. 301, page 480, infra. If, however, the artist had the intention to represent the flat hand as in motion from below upward, as is probable from the connection, the meaning is much, greatly. He strongly disapproves the counsel of the opposite side. Our Indians often express the idea of quantity, much, with the same conception of comparative height, by an upward motion of the extended palm, but with them the palm is held downward. The last figure to the right, by the action of his whole body, shows his rejection of the proposed delay, and his right hand gives the modern sign of combined surprise and reproof.

It is interesting to note the similarity of the merely emotional gestures and attitudes of modern Italy with those of the classics. The Pulcinella, Fig. 73, for instance, drawn from life in the streets of Naples, has the same pliancy and abandon of the limbs as appears in the supposed foolish slaves of the Vatican Terence.

In close connection with this branch of the study reference must be made to the gestures exhibited in the works of Italian art only modern in comparison with the high antiquity of their predecessors. A good instance is in the Last Supper of Leonardo da Vinci, painted toward the close of the fifteenth century, and to the figure of Judas as there portrayed. The gospel denounces him as a thief, which is expressed in the painting by the hand extended and slightly curved; imitative of the pilferer's act in clutching and drawing toward him furtively the stolen object, and is the same gesture that now indicates theft in Naples, Fig. 74, and among some of the North American Indians, Fig. 75. The pictorial propriety of the sign is preserved by the apparent desire of the traitor to obtain the one white loaf of bread on the table (the remainder being of coarser quality) which lies near where his hand is tending. Raffaelle was equally particular in his exhibition of gesture language, even unto the minutest detail of the arrangement of the fingers. It is traditional that he sketched the Madonna's hands for the Spasimo di Sicilia in eleven different positions before he was satisfied.

No allusion to the bibliography of gesture speech, however slight, should close without including the works of Mgr. D. De Haerne, who has, as a member of the Belgian Chamber of Representatives, in addition to his rank in the Roman Catholic Church, been active in promoting the cause of education in general, and especially that of the deaf and dumb. His admirable treatise The Natural Language of Signs has been translated and is accessible to American readers in the American Annals of the Deaf and Dumb, 1875. In that valuable serial, conducted by Prof. E.A. FAY, of the National Deaf Mute College at Washington, and now in its twenty-sixth volume, a large amount of the current literature on the subject indicated by its title can be found.


Dr. TYLOR says (Early History of Mankind, 44): "We cannot lay down as a rule that gesticulation decreases as civilization advances, and say, for instance, that a Southern Frenchman, because his talk is illustrated with gestures as a book with pictures, is less civilized than a German or Englishman." This is true, and yet it is almost impossible for persons not accustomed to gestures to observe them without associating the idea of low culture. Thus in Mr. Darwin's summing up of those characteristics of the natives of Tierra del Fuego, which rendered it difficult to believe them to be fellow-creatures, he classes their "violent gestures" with their filthy and greasy skins, discordant voices, and hideous faces bedaubed with paint. This description is quoted by the Duke of Argyle in his Unity of Nature in approval of those characteristics as evidence, of the lowest condition of humanity.

Whether or not the power of the visible gesture relative to, and its influence upon the words of modern oral speech are in inverse proportion to the general culture, it seems established that they do not bear that or any constant proportion to the development of the several languages with which gesture is still more or less associated. The statement has frequently been made that gesture is yet to some highly-advanced languages a necessary modifying factor, and that only when a language has become so artificial as to be completely expressible in written signs—indeed, has been remodeled through their long familiar use—can the bodily signs be wholly dispensed with. The evidence for this statement is now doubted, and it is safer to affirm that a common use of gesture depends more upon the sociologic conditions of the speakers than upon the degree of copiousness of their oral speech.


The nearest approach to a general rule which it is now proposed to hazard is that where people speaking precisely the same dialect are not numerous, and are thrown into constant contact on equal terms with others of differing dialects and languages, gesture is necessarily resorted to for converse with the latter, and remains for an indefinite time as a habit or accomplishment among themselves, while large bodies enjoying common speech, and either isolated from foreigners, or, when in contact with them, so dominant as to compel the learning and adoption of their own tongue, become impassive in its delivery. The ungesturing English, long insular, and now rulers when spread over continents, may be compared with the profusely gesticulating Italians dwelling in a maze of dialects and subject for centuries either to foreign rule or to the influx of strangers on whom they depended. So common is the use of gestures in Italy, especially among the lower and uneducated classes, that utterance without them seems to be nearly impossible. The driver or boatman will often, on being addressed, involuntarily drop the reins or oars, at the risk of a serious accident, to respond with his arms and fingers in accompaniment of his tongue. Nor is the habit confined to the uneducated. King Ferdinand returning to Naples after the revolt of 1821, and finding that the boisterous multitude would not allow his voice to be heard, resorted successfully to a royal address in signs, giving reproaches, threats, admonitions, pardon, and dismissal, to the entire satisfaction of the assembled lazzaroni. The medium, though probably not the precise manner of its employment, recalls Lucan's account of the quieting of an older tumult—

tumultum Composuit vultu, dextraque silentia fecit.

This rivalry of Punch would, in London, have occasioned measureless ridicule and disgust. The difference in what is vaguely styled temperament does not wholly explain the contrast between the two peoples, for the performance was creditable both to the readiness of the King in an emergency and to the aptness of his people, the main distinction being that in Italy there was in 1821, and still is, a recognized and cultivated language of signs long disused in Great Britain. In seeking to account for this it will be remembered that the Italians have a more direct descent from the people who, as has been above shown, in classic times so long and lovingly cultivated gesture as a system. They have also had more generally before their eyes the artistic relics in which gestures have been preserved.

It is a curious fact that some English writers, notably Addison (Spectator, 407), have contended that it does not suit the genius of that nation to use gestures even in public speaking, against which doctrine Austin vigorously remonstrates. He says: "There may possibly be nations whose livelier feelings incline them more to gesticulation than is common among us, as there are also countries in which plants of excellent use to man grow spontaneously; these, by care and culture, are found to thrive also in colder countries."

It is in general to be remarked that as the number of dialects in any district decreases so will the gestures, though doubtless there is also weight in the fact not merely that a language has been reduced to and modified by writing, but that people who are accustomed generally to read and write, as are the English and Germans, will after a time think and talk as they write, and without the accompaniments still persistent among Hindus, Arabs, and the less literate of European nations.

The fact that in the comparatively small island of Sicily gesture language has been maintained until the present time in a perfection not observed elsewhere in Europe must be considered in connection with the above remark on England's insularity, and it must also be admitted that several languages have prevailed in the latter, still leaving dialects. This apparent similarity of conditions renders the contrast as regards use of gestures more remarkable, yet there are some reasons for their persistence in Sicily which apply with greater force than to Great Britain. The explanation, through mere tradition, is that the common usage of signs dates from the time of Dionysius, the tyrant of Syracuse, who prohibited meetings and conversation among his subjects, under the direst penalties, so that they adopted that expedient to hold communication. It would be more useful to consider the peculiar history of the island. The Sicanians being its aborigines it was colonized by Greeks, who, as the Romans asserted, were still more apt at gesture than themselves. This colonization was also by separate bands of adventurers from several different states of Greece, so that they started with dialects and did not unite in a common or national organization, the separate cities and their territories being governed by oligarchies or tyrants frequently at war with each other, until, in the fifth century B.C., the Carthaginians began to contribute a new admixture of language and blood, followed by Roman, Vandal, Gothic, Herulian, Arab, and Norman subjugation. Thus some of the conditions above suggested have existed in this case, but, whatever the explanation, the accounts given by travelers of the extent to which the language of signs has been used even during the present generation are so marvelous as to deserve quotation. The one selected is from the pen of Alexandre Dumas, who, it is to be hoped, did not carry his genius for romance into a professedly sober account of travel:

"In the intervals of the acts of the opera I saw lively conversations carried on between the orchestra and the boxes. Arami, in particular, recognized a friend whom he had not seen for three years, and who related to him, by means of his eyes and his hands, what, to judge by the eager gestures of my companion, must have been matters of great interest. The conversation ended, I asked him if I might know without impropriety what was the intelligence which had seemed to interest him so deeply. 'O, yes,' he replied, 'that person is one of my good friends, who has been away from Palermo for three years, and he has been telling me that he was married at Naples; then traveled with his wife in Austria and in France; there his wife gave birth to a daughter, whom he had the misfortune to lose; he arrived by steamboat yesterday, but his wife had suffered so much from sea-sickness that she kept her bed, and he came alone to the play.' 'My dear friend,' said I to Arami, 'if you would have me believe you, you must grant me a favor.' 'What is it?' said he. 'It is, that you do not leave me during the evening, so that I may be sure you give no instructions to your friend, and when we join him, that you ask him to repeat aloud what he said to you by signs.' 'That I will,' said Arami. The curtain then rose; the second act of Norma was played; the curtain falling, and the actors being recalled, as usual, we went to the side-room, where we met the traveler. 'My dear friend,' said Arami, 'I did not perfectly comprehend what you wanted to tell me; be so good as to repeat it.' The traveler repeated the story word for word, and without varying a syllable from the translation, which Arami had made of his signs; it was marvelous indeed.

"Six weeks after this, I saw a second example of this faculty of mute communication. This was at Naples. I was walking with a young man of Syracuse. We passed by a sentinel. The soldier and my companion exchanged two or three grimaces, which at another time I should not even have noticed, but the instances I had before seen led me to give attention. 'Poor fellow,' sighed my companion. 'What did he say to you?' I asked. 'Well,' said he, 'I thought that I recognized him as a Sicilian, and I learned from him, as we passed, from what place he came; he said he was from Syracuse, and that he knew me well. Then I asked him how he liked the Neapolitan service; he said he did not like it at all, and if his officers did not treat him better he should certainly finish by deserting. I then signified to him that if he ever should be reduced to that extremity, he might rely upon me, and that I would aid him all in my power. The poor fellow thanked me with all his heart, and I have no doubt that one day or other I shall see him come.' Three days after, I was at the quarters of my Syracusan friend, when he was told that a man asked to see him who would not give his name; he went out and left me nearly ten minutes. 'Well,' said he, on returning, 'just as I said.' 'What?' said I. 'That the poor fellow would desert.'"

After this there is an excuse for believing the tradition that the revolt called "the Sicilian Vespers," in 1282, was arranged throughout the island without the use of a syllable, and even the day and hour for the massacre of the obnoxious foreigners fixed upon by signs only. Indeed, the popular story goes so far as to assert that all this was done by facial expression, without even manual signs.


It is fortunately possible to produce some illustrations of the modern Neapolitan sign language traced from the plates of De Jorio, with translations, somewhat condensed, of his descriptions and remarks.

In Fig. 76 an ambulant secretary or public writer is seated at his little table, on which are the meager tools of his trade. He wears spectacles in token that he has read and written much, and has one seat at his side to accommodate his customers. On this is seated a married woman who asks him to write a letter to her absent husband. The secretary, not being told what to write about, without surprise, but somewhat amused, raises his left hand with the ends of the thumb and finger joined, the other fingers naturally open, a common sign for inquiry. "What shall the letter be about?" The wife, not being ready of speech, to rid herself of the embarrassment, resorts to the mimic art, and, without opening her mouth, tells with simple gestures all that is in her mind. Bringing her right hand to her heart, with a corresponding glance of the eyes she shows that the theme is to be love. For emphasis also she curves the whole upper part of her body towards him, to exhibit the intensity of her passion. To complete the mimic story, she makes with her left hand the sign of asking for something, which has been above described (see page 291). The letter, then, is to assure her husband of her love and to beg him to return it with corresponding affection. The other woman, perhaps her sister, who has understood the whole direction, regards the request as silly and fruitless and is much disgusted. Being on her feet, she takes a step toward the wife, who she thinks is unadvised, and raises her left hand with a sign of disapprobation. This position of the hand is described in full as open, raised high, and oscillated from right to left. Several of the Indian signs have the same idea of oscillation of the hand raised, often near the head, to express folly, fool. She clearly says, "What a thing to ask! what a fool you are!" and at the same time makes with the right hand the sign of money. This is made by the extremities of the thumb and index rapidly rubbed against each other, and is shown more clearly in Fig. 77. It is taken from the handling and counting of coin. This may be compared with an Indian sign, see Fig. 115, page 344.

So the sister is clearly disapproving with her left hand and with her right giving good counsel, as if to say, in the combination, "What a fool you are to ask for his love; you had better ask him to send you some money."

* * * * *

In Naples, as in American cities, boiled ears of green corn are vended with much outcry. Fig. 78 shows a boy who is attracted by the local cry "Pollanchelle tenerelle!" and seeing the sweet golden ears still boiling in the kettle from which steams forth fragrance, has an ardent desire to taste the same, but is without a soldo. He tries begging. His right open hand is advanced toward the desired object with the sign of asking or begging, and he also raises his left forefinger to indicate the number one—"Pretty girl, please only give me one!" The pretty girl is by no means cajoled, and while her left hand holds the ladle ready to use if he dares to touch her merchandise, she replies by gesture "Te voglio da no cuorno!" freely translated, "I'll give you one in a horn!" This gesture is drawn, with clearer outline in Fig. 79, and has many significations, according to the subject-matter and context, and also as applied to different parts of the body. Applied to the head it has allusion, descending from high antiquity, to a marital misfortune which was probably common in prehistoric times as well as the present. It is also often used as an amulet against the jettatura or evil eye, and misfortune in general, and directed toward another person is a prayerful wish for his or her preservation from evil. This use is ancient, as is shown on medals and statues, and is supposed by some to refer to the horns of animals slaughtered in sacrifice. The position of the fingers, Fig. 80, is also given as one of Quintilian's oratorical gestures by the words "Duo quoque medii sub pollicem veniunt," and is said by him to be vehement and connected with reproach or argument. In the present case, as a response to an impertinent or disagreeable petition, it simply means, "instead of giving what you ask, I will give you nothing but what is vile and useless, as horns are."

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