sign language


Definition of sign language 

1 : a formal language employing a system of hand gestures for communication (as by the deaf)

2 : an unsystematic method of communicating chiefly by manual gestures used by people speaking different languages

Examples of sign language in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Now a professor in the Primate Behavior and Ecology Program at Central Washington University, Jensvold has worked with chimpanzees who communicate with sign language since 1986. Deborah Netburn,, "What it's like to be interviewed for a job by Koko the gorilla: 'She had a lot to say'," 22 June 2018 Koko was taught sign language from an early age as a scientific test subject and eventually learned more than 1,000 words, a vocabulary similar to that of a human toddler., "Koko the Gorilla Used Smarts, Empathy to Help Change Views," 21 June 2018 Her sign language interpreters, Celeste Moresco and Jody Schatz, both of Highland Park, worked diligently to make sure Rinaldi’s participation was not hindered in any way, just a little different. Yadira Sanchez Olson, Lake County News-Sun, "Hearing impairment does not deter Lake County Citizen Police Academy graduate," 20 May 2018 William Gibson's play tells the famous story of how Sullivan shattered the isolation of a deaf, dumb, and blind Alabama girl, using tactile sign language to teach Keller the relationship between words and things. Richard Mcgill Murphy, Town & Country, "Desert Prep," 17 Dec. 2012 Researcher Francine Patterson began working with Koko in 1972, teaching her sign language. National Geographic, "Why Koko the Gorilla Mattered," 21 June 2018 Koko was born at the San Francisco Zoo, and Dr. Francine 'Penny' Patterson began teaching the gorilla sign language that became part of a Stanford University project in 1974. Chris Irvine, Fox News, "Koko, the gorilla who mastered sign language, dies at 46," 21 June 2018 Koko the gorilla signs off The beloved gorilla Koko, famous for being fluent in sign language, died in her sleep Tuesday at age 46. USA TODAY, "Does Melania Trump really care about the children? Her jacket says no.," 21 June 2018 Then came the backlash, from linguists and experts in sign languages. The Economist, "What Koko the gorilla could and couldn’t do," 5 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'sign language.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of sign language

1824, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Dictionary Entries near sign language

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sign into law


sign language



sign manual

Statistics for sign language

Last Updated

12 Nov 2018

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Time Traveler for sign language

The first known use of sign language was in 1824

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More Definitions for sign language

sign language


English Language Learners Definition of sign language

: a system of hand movements used for communication especially by people who are deaf

sign language


Kids Definition of sign language

: a system of hand movements used for communication (as by people who are deaf)

sign language


Medical Definition of sign language 

: a formal language employing a system of hand gestures for communication (as by the deaf) — compare finger spelling

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by force of circumstances

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