In the 1980s Deaf children in Nicaragua were sent to a new school that was supposed to help them learn finger spelling. Instead, they built up their own language, now known as Nicaraguan Sign Language. Plus: divers in Mexico find a cave that looked like it hadn’t been visited before, only to find a link to civilization thousands of years ago.
While this year may sometimes have us struggling to find the words to describe it, words can still be useful.
That’s probably why this story from the 1980s has been getting so much attention again this week.
It’s a fascinating story about a time several decades ago that Deaf students at a school in Nicaragua created their own language.
The then-new government of Nicaragua set up a school for the students in the city of Managua, thinking that it would be a better option for young children who were often at home without anyone nearby who could teach them a sign language in those crucial early years when our brains are most ready to learn language.
But the teachers at the school had been advised to teach the kids finger spelling, even though they didn’t have letters or words.
It didn’t really work.
Instead, the teachers noticed that the students were doing their own gestures to each other.
They described these as “mimicas,” simple movements to communicate basic concepts.
But these were so elaborate that the teachers couldn’t understand what their own students were saying.
An American sign language expert, Judy Kegl, came to visit the school and found these kids were actually creating their own language.
There were rules that came with the gestures, syntax and verb agreements.
These weren’t just mimicas after all.
Critics said Kegl should teach them an established language, that she was cutting them off from communicating with the outside world.
But she refused, saying she didn’t want to be an outsider killing off an indigenous language.
Instead, she helped document what is now known as Nicaraguan Sign Language (its initials in Spanish are ISN), which may show just how essential language is to us and especially to our brains.
In 2017, two divers off the coast of Mexico found a flooded cave that divers hadn’t gone in before, yet included stacked rocks and other signs of human activity.
Newly published research concludes the cave was a mine for ochre pigment thousands and thousands of years ago.
History really is all around us, isn’t it?