It is not the purpose of the writer to attempt even a catalogue of the numerous finger alphabets, common, tactile, phonetic, "phonomimic," "phonodactylologic", and syllabic, which have been proposed for the special use of the deaf.

The one-hand alphabet used by Ponce and figured by Bonet was common in Spanish almanacs hawked by ballad-mongers upon the streets of Madrid in the days of De l'Epee, and although rejected by him, it was adopted by his pupils. This with slight modifications became the French manual alphabet which was introduced at Hartford by Dr. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet. This alphabet is known in almost every hamlet in the land. Slight changes in the form of certain letters, or in the position of the hand, in the direction of greater perspicuity and capacity for rapid use, have taken place gradually, though there is no absolute uniformity of usage among instructors or pupils.

This "American" alphabet, as here presented, through the liberality of Dr. A. Graham Bell, has been drawn and engraved from photographs, and represents typical positions of the fingers, hand and fore-arm from a uniform point of view in front of the person spelling, or as seen in a large mirror by the user himself.13

This alphabet can be learned in less than an hour, and many have learned it by extraordinary application in ten minutes. It is recommended that the arm be held in an easy position near the body, with the fore-arm as in the plates. Each letter should be mastered before leaving it. Speed will come with use; it should not be attempted nor permitted until the forms of the letters and the appropriate positions of the hand are thoroughly familiar. The forms as given are legible from the distant parts of a public hall. In colloquial use the fingers need not be so closely held nor firmly flexed, as represented, but sprawling should be avoided. It is not necessary to move the arm, but a slight leverage at the elbow is conducive to ease and is permissible, provided the hand delivers the letters steadily within an imaginary immovable ring of, say, ten inches in diameter.

The One Hand Alphabet In General Use.   FRONT VIEW.

The One-Hand Alphabet In General Use


This adjunct to speech-reading is recommended for its convenience, clearness, rapidity, and ease in colloquial use, as well as for its value as an educational instrument in impressing words, phrases, and sentences in their spelled form upon the mind, in testing the comprehension of children, and in affording by easy steps a substitute for the sign-language.

In the simultaneous instruction of large classes not able to follow speech, finger-spelling "may take the place of signs to a great extent in the definition, explanation, and illustration of single words and phrases, and in questions and answers upon the lessons, and in communications of every kind to which the stock of language already acquired may be adequate."14

All who have anything to do with the school instruction of the deaf may well bear in mind the matured opinion and wise counsel of Professor Samuel Porter, of the National College, the Nestor of American instructors. In this connection, Professor Porter says:

In short, let the gestural signs come in only as a last resort, or, so far as possible, merely as supplementary to words, re-enforcing them in some instances, or employed as a test of the pupil's knowledge of words, but always, so far as possible, falling behind and taking a subordinate place. And let the pupils be required, in what they have to say to their teachers in the schoolroom or elsewhere, to employ the finger-alphabet instead of natural signs to the utmost possible extent, and this by complete sentences and not in a fragmentary way.


Professor in the National College, Washington, D.C..

[4]The brilliant but wily Sicard, whose "show" pupils were accustomed to honoring drafts at sight in appropriate responses to all sorts of questions, acting upon the motto, Mundus vult decipi, ergo decipiatur, schooled certain pupils in deciphering writing in the air, and was thus prepared, in emergencies at his public exhibitions, to convey intimations of the answers, while supposed to be using "signs" in putting questions.[5]Quatrieme Circulaire, Paris, 1836, p. 16. Carton's Memoire, 1845, p. 73.[6]Barrois: Dactylologie et langage primitif, Paris, 1850, Firmin Didot freres.[7]The library of the New York Institution contains a copy of this very rare edition, bearing the title Abacus atque velustissima Latinorum per digitos manusque numerandi (quinetiam loquendi) consuetudo, etc., Ratisbonae, 1532.[8] For an exhaustive account of the gesture speech in Anglo-Saxon monasteries and of the Cistercian monks, who were under rigid vows of silence, see F. Kluge: Zur Geschichte der Zeichensprache. - Angelsachsische indicia Monaslerialia, in International Zeitschrift fur Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, II. Band, I. Halfte. Leipzig, 1885.[9]Reduccion de lasletras y arte para ensenar a hablar los mudos, 1620. The writer is under obligations to Sr. Santos M. Robledo, of the Ministry of Public Works and Education, for advance sheets of the reprint in beautiful facsimile of this rare work ordered by the Spanish Government in 1881.[10]The Abbe de l'Epee did not master the Spanish alphabet, and, attaching but little importance to manual spelling, he was unsparing in his criticism of Messieurs the dactylologists, but by "the irony of fate" this alphabet occupies a face of the pedestal of one statue to his memory, and in another statue the good Abbe is represented either as receiving this alphabet from the skies or as devoutly using it.[11]Philocophus: or, THE DEAFE and Dumbe Mans Friend. By I.B. [John Bulwer] sirnamed the Chorosopher. London, 1648. Pp. 106,107.[12]Dr. Kitto remaks the following common mistakes in reading rapid two-hand spelling: the confounding i with e or o; d with p; l with t; f with x; r with t and with one form of j; n with v, and adds: "Upon the whole, the system is very defective, and is capable of great improvement." - The Lost Senses, p. 107.[13]See an interesting paper on figured manual alphabets by H.H. Hollister, Annals, xv., 88-93.[14]The Use of the Manual Alphabet, by S. Porter: Proceedings of the Eighth Convention of American Instructors, pp. 21-30. Copies of the Proceedings which contain this extremely valuable paper may be obtained of R. Mathison, Superintendent of the Ontario Institution, Belleville, Ontario.