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Old Kentish Sign Language
Native toformerly the United Kingdom
RegionKent, England
Extinct17th century?
Language codes
ISO 639-3okl

Old Kentish Sign Language (OKSL, also Old Kent Sign Language) was a village sign language of 17th-century Kent in the United Kingdom, that has been incorporated along with other village sign languages into British Sign Language.

According to Peter Webster Jackson (2001), OKSL may have been the language used by a deaf boy described by 17th century British writer Samuel Pepys in his Diaries.[1][page needed] Pepys was dining with his friend Sir George Downing on 9 November 1666, when the deaf servant had a conversation in sign language with his master, which included news of the Great Fire of London. Downing had been to school near Maidstone in Kent, where he lived in a community where congenital deafness was widespread. This population supported a sign language which was known by many hearing people as well as deaf.[2][page needed]

As settlers of the Martha's Vineyard communities of Tisbury and Chilmark in Massachusetts migrated from the Kentish Weald, Nora Groce (1985) speculates that OKSL may be the origin of Martha's Vineyard Sign Language, which is, in turn, one of the precursors of American Sign Language (ASL).[3][page needed] Others have cautioned against uncritical reception of this claim, "because no deaf people were part of the original migration from Kent, and nothing is known about any specific variety of signing used in Kent."[4]


  1. ^ Jackson, Peter Webster (2001). A Pictorial History of Deaf Britain. Winsford: Deafprint Winsford. ISBN 978-0953220649.
  2. ^ Jones, Steve (1996). In the Blood – God, Genes & Destiny. London: HarperCollins. p. 10. ISBN 978-0002555111.
  3. ^ Groce, Nora Ellen (1985). Everyone here spoke sign language: Hereditary deafness on Martha's Vineyard. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-27040-1.
  4. ^ Woll, Bencie; Sutton-Spence, Rachel; Elton, Frances (2001). "Multilingualism: The global approach to sign languages". In Lucas, Ceil (ed.). The Sociolinguistics of Sign Languages. Cambridge University Press. p. 10. ISBN 0-521-79137-5.