Forward to American Indian Pottery // Magical History Tour // Back to Other Native American Nations and Peoples

INDIAN SIGN LANGUAGE
NUMBERS

TO COUNT:  Usually count to ten by starting with the right hand closed, palm turned to the
person being addressed, at shoulder level.  For number one, the little finger is raised; for two, the
next finger; for three, the middle finger is raised; for four, the index finger; and for five, the
thumb, thus ending with all five fingers raised.  For the numbers six through ten, keep the right
hand as it is, with palm out and all five fingers extended.  For six, touch your left thumb to the tip
of your right thumb.  For seven, raise the left index finger; for eight, add the middle finger; for
nine, add the left ring finger; and for ten, the left little finger, so that all ten fingers are now
raised.

EQUAL:  Place both hands in front of the chest closed except for the index fingers, which are
extended parallel to one another.  Then move the hands towards the person being addressed,
maintaining the same distance between the extended fingers.

HOW MUCH?:  Make the sign for "much."

MUCH:  Raise the left hand, with palm towards the chest and fingers extended upward.  Tap the
left little finger with the right index finger, then tap the other fingers of the left hand.  When the
fingers are touched, they close up.

    THE BODY AND THE SENSES

BLOOD:  Bring the right hand up to the level of the mouth, with the index and middle fingers
touching the nostrils.  Lower the hand with a jerky and agitated motion.

BRAIN:  Touch the forehead with two fingers of the right hand.

TO CALL, TO BE CALLED:  This is one of the most important and most widely used signs.
Tightly close your right hand and hold it in front of your face, with the thumb touching the other
fingers and the knuckles pointing towards the person addressed.  Then point the index finger, at
the same time moving the hand slightly forward.  This sign can also mean "What are you
asking?" or "What is your name?"

TO CRY:  Place both hands clenched against the cheeks, with the index fingers pointing towards
the eyes.  The index fingers then suggest tears, which leave streaks on the cheeks.

FACE:  Open out your right hand and pass it over your face from top to bottom.

TO HEAR:  Hold the right hand cupped close to the right ear.  By wrist movements, turn the
hand slightly backwards and then forward.

HEART:  Place the right hand, fingers held together, on the chest at the level of the heart.

TO LAUGH:  Hold both hands cupped, palms up, fingers raised and separated from one another,
at chest level.  First raise the hands, then lower them.

TO SEE:  Place the right hand near the right side of the nose, with the index and middle fingers
extended, and the other fingers clenched.

SICK:  Spread your hands and place them against your chest.  Then rub yourself in several
places to indicate pain.
 

TO SMELL:  Bend the right hand, palm horizontal, fingers spread, and bring it up to the nostrils.
Raise the hand a bit more so that the nose comes between the tips of the fingers.

TO TASTE AND TONGUE:  Stick the tip of your tongue out slightly, and touch it with the tip of
your index finger.

    LIFE IN THE TRIBE

ALL, EVERYONE:  With the right hand held horizontally, palm down, describe a circle, going
from right to left.  Bend your body while you are doing this.

BAD LUCK:  Make the signs for "medicine" and "bad."

BLESS YOU:  Raise both hands, palms facing outwards.  Then lower them slightly and direct
them gently towards the person addressed.

TO DANCE:  Place both hands at chest level, fingers pointing up, palms facing chest.  Raise and
lower both hands two or three times.

GOD (or the mystery of the Universe):  Make the signs for medicine and big, then point the
index finger towards the sky.

HANDSHAKE:  Squeeze the hands together in front of the chest.  Indians did not shake hands
except on great occasions such as the signing of a treaty or agreement, or the end of a war or a
battle.  After the coming of the Palefaces, the gesture became customary.

MEDICINE (in the sense of the mysterious or the unknown):  Hold the right hand at forehead
level, palm turned inwards, middle and index fingers spread out and pointing up, the other
fingers closed.  Raise the hand higher and make a clockwise circular movement.

NAME:  Make the signs for question, you and call.  ("How are you called?" or "What is your
name?")

TO SING:  Hold the right hand in front of the mouth with the index and middle fingers extended
and spread out, the other fingers closed.  Then describe a faint circle horizontally.  To finish,
make the sign for "all."

TO SING:  Hold the right hand in front of the mouth, with the index and middle fingers extended
and spread out, the other fingers closed.  Then describe a faint circle horizontally.  To finish,
make the sign for "all."

WORK:  Place the hands together in front of the chest, the fingertips of the left hand touching
the palm of the right hand.  The right hand should be held slightly higher than the left hand.
Then raise both hands, shaking the wrists.

YES:  Place the back of your right hand against the right side of your chest near the shoulder.
The index finger should be extended and pointing; the other fingers should be closed, with the
thumb resting on the middle finger.  Move the hand slightly to the left and at the same time crook
the index finger in the direction of the thumb.
 
 
 
 

    TIME

ALWAYS:  Place the right hand, open, at ear level.  Move it slowly forward, then back.  Repeat
this.  Then pass the hand in front of the head, and then behind it.

DAY:  Hold both hands horizontally at chest level about 4 inches apart, palms down.  Then move
them to each side, turn palms up and stop.

FUTURE:  Make the sign for "time."  Then bring the right hand forward, with index finger still
extended, and pass it over the left hand.

NIGHT:  Extend both hands, held open, about a foot apart.  The palms should be down and the
right hand should be slightly higher than the left.  Then cross the wrists, placing the right wrist
over the left.

NOW:  Hold the right index finger, extended upwards, about 8 inches in front of the face.  Move
it a few inches forward, stop, and almost immediately move it forward again.

TIME:  Indians have different ways of indicating time.  A common way is this:  Hold both hands
at chest level, index fingers pointing forward, the other fingers closed.  Then pull the right hand
back and to the right about 8 inches.

    WHERE?

ABOVE:  The two hands are held flat, the right (with palm down) on top of the left (with palm up).
Then raise the right hand slowly, keeping the let hand motionless.

ACROSS:  Hold the left hand horizontally, about a foot from the chest, with palm down and
extended fingers pointing towards the right.  Then place the right hand over the left hand and
slide it, fingers forward, over the top and towards the ground.

BELOW:  Place the left hand upon the right hand, with palms down, at chest level.  Then lower
the right hand vertically, the distance varying with the depth you wish to indicate.

FAR:  The right hand is held on the side at should level.  Then move it forward slowly.  If the
distance involved is great, move it forward as far as possible.

TO QUESTION:  Hold the right hand open, fingers spread, palm turned towards the person
addressed, at shoulder level.  by wrist action turn the right hand slightly, two or three times.  If
the person addressed is standing at a distance, raise the hand much higher and wave it from
right to left.  This means "what?" and occasionally "where?" "why?" and "when?"

UP:  Point to the sky with the index finger.

WHERE:  Make the sign for "question."  Then point the right index finger in several directions.

To Part 2