The origin of Nicaraguan Sign Language tells us a lot about language creation

Editor’s note: A transcript of the radio story can be found below.

In 1979, the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew Anastasio Somoza Debayle, a dictator whose family had been in power in Nicaragua since 1936. 

The new government had big plans, including a massive literacy campaign that was launched in 1980. They supported special education in public schools, including provision for deaf children. This was new for Nicaragua: Previously, most deaf children were completely isolated.

Suddenly, for the first time, there was a community of deaf kids all trying to communicate with each other as hundreds were brought together in a few schools in Managua, the capital. It was here that the new language — Nicaraguan Sign Language (NSL), or Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua (ISN) — would emerge.

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