Beyond the “Hang Loose” Sign


Sign languages are just as rich as spoken languages, with their own grammar, slang, and regional peculiarities. American Sign Language is distinct from French and Kenyan and Peruvian Sign Languages—and, as was recently discovered, from Hawaiian Sign Language.

Linda Lambrecht, a sign-language instructor at Kapiolani Community College who is fluent in both ASL and its Hawaiian counterpart, brought this fact to light when she began pointing out to other academics that the two languages were too syntactically and grammatically divergent to be related.

Fewer than 50 people use Hawaiian Sign Language since it was supplanted by ASL in the ’40s and ’50s, but this is not an insignificant discovery; it’s “the first time in 80 years a previously unknown language—spoken or signed—has been documented in the U.S.”

Lauren O'Neal is an MFA student at San Francisco State University. Her writing has appeared in publications like Slate, The New Inquiry, and The Hairpin. You can follow her on Twitter at @laureneoneal. More from this author →