Plains Indian Sign Language

Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL), also known as Hand Talk, Plains Sign Talk,[5] and First Nation Sign Language,[1] is a trade language, formerly trade pidgin, that was once the lingua franca across what is now central Canada, the central and western United States and northern Mexico, used among the various Plains Nations.[6] It was also used for story-telling, oratory, various ceremonies, and by deaf people for ordinary daily use.[7] It is thought by some to be a manually coded language or languages; however, there is not substantive evidence establishing a connection between any spoken language and Plains Sign Talk.

Plains Native American Sign Language
Hand Talk
Plains Sign Talk
First Nation Sign Language[1]
Langues[dubious ] des signes des Indiens des Plaines (in the Canadian province of Québec)
Lenguaje de signos Indio de las Llanuras (in Mexico)
Native toCanada, Mexico, USA
RegionCentral Canada and United States including the Great Plains and the Rocky Mountains region; northern Mexico
EthnicityVarious North American Indigenous Peoples
Native speakers
Unknown (no date)[2]
75 users total (no date)[3]
Isolate, formerly a trade pidgin
  • Navajo Sign Language
  • Blackfoot Sign Language
  • Cree Sign Language
  • Ojibwa Sign Language
none; formerly a now unnamed, undeciphered script
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Recognised as official in courts, education and legislative assembly of Ontario.[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3psd
ELPPlains Indian Sign Language
  The attested historical range of Plains Sign Talk among other sign languages in the US and Canada (excl. ASL and LSQ).
Extracts of the films taken during the 1930 Conference on PISL conservation, showing General Hugh L. Scott and signers from various tribes.[4]
A 1900 newspaper illustration claiming to showcase several of the signs of Plains Indian Sign Language.

The name 'Plains Sign Talk' is preferred in Canada, with 'Indian' being considered pejorative by many who are Indigenous. Hence, publications and reports on the language vary in naming conventions according to origin.

As a result of several factors, including the massive depopulation and the Americanization of Indigenous North Americans, the number of Plains Sign Talk speakers declined from European arrival onward. In 1885, it was estimated that there were over 110,000 "sign-talking Indians", including Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Sioux, Kiowa and Arapaho.[8] By the 1960s, there remained a "very small percentage of this number".[8] There are few Plains Sign Talk speakers in the 21st century.[9]

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Plains Indian Sign Language, and is written by contributors. Text is available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 International License; additional terms may apply. Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.