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French Sign language

French Sign Language

French Sign Language is frequently, though mistakenly, attributed to the work of Charles Michel de l'Épée (l'abbé de l'Épée). In fact, he is said to have discovered the already existing language by total accident.

The abbé set himself to learning the language, now known as Old French Sign Language, and eventually he established a free school for the deaf. At this school, he developed a system he called "methodical signs", to teach his students how to read and write. The abbé was eventually able to make public demonstrations (1771 to 1774) of his system, demonstrations that attracted educators and celebrities from all over the continent and that popularised the idea that the deaf could be educated, especially by gesture.

French Sign Language flourished from this point until the late 1800s at which point a schism between the manualist and oralist schools of thought had long developed. In 1880 the Milan International Congress of Teachers for the Deaf-Mute convened and decided that the oralist tradition would be preferred. In due time, the use of sign language was treated as a barrier to learning to talk, and thus forbidden from the classroom.

This situation would remain in France until the late 1970s where the deaf community began to militate for greater recognition of sign language and for a bilingual education system. It would not be until 1991 that the General Assembly passed the Fabius law, officially authorising the use of LSF for the education of deaf children. A law was also passed in 2004 fully recognising LSF as a language in its own right.