Science Nation – Hand Talk

Several years ago James Woodenlegs and Melanie McKay-Cody visited the Tennessee School for the Deaf in collaboration with Dr. Jeffrey Davis to inform the students about Plains Indian Sign Language and create a short documentary film trailer with help from the National Science Foundation.

Endangered Languages

The United Nations predicts that over half of the world’s 7000 languages will become extinct by the end of the 21st century. It is our goal at PISL Research to preserve as much of the cultural, historical, and scientific value of a language as possible for current and future generations. Many other linguists are working together on a global scale to protect these endangered languages as well. Here is another project (by Bowery Arts and Sciences) summarizing the value of language preservation.

AISL Conference 2012

Back at the end of August and just into the beginning of September, we had our AISL Conference 2012 in commemoration of the 1930’s AISL conference. We have photos from the conference up on the “AISL Conference 2012” page which you can find the link to at the top of this page, just under the banner. We will also have video clips from the conference up shortly.

The Coyote Story

We’d like to thank Ron Garritson for his continued work with and support of our American Indian Sign Language project. Ron (Métis) is an adept signer and an educator. We are glad to have someone like him on our team and working to save and revitalize this language.

Below is Ron’s telling of The Coyote story. Included are captions for an English translation as well as a sign-by-sign GLOSS of the story. We hope you enjoy it.

More videos of AISL/PISL are on their way. We are working with our collaborators in order to bring you the best translations and most accurate GLOSSes.

Compilation of AISL/PISL stories

Within the following video are three segments of AISL/PISL signing. The first is of Loretha Rising Sun Grinsell (Tse’tsehestahese). Loretha is a native AISL/PISL signer and educator. The second segment is of Marvin Weatherwax (Amskapi Pikuni). He is an AISL native signer and an educator at Blackfeet Community College in Browning, MT. The third segment is a conversation between Loretha Rising Sun and Barney Old Coyote (Apsaalooke). None of the three have subtitles at this time; however, we are working to provide those for you.

Our project would not be near what it is today without any of these three. We thank them and everyone else involved for their hard work and dedication to the language and culture.

As we translate more and create subtitles and GLOSSes for each of these segments, we will be reposting the individual clips for you to view and enjoy.

A blurb from Indigenous Languages and Technology

The Internet: A lifeboat for endangered languages?

Published 30 November 2011 – Updated 05 December 2011

Although the English language continues to dominate the Internet, the
rise of global economic powerhouses like China and Russia has seen a
surge in what used to be considered second-tier languages, a Brussels
conference heard last week. Meanwhile, the UN predicts that half of
the world’s 6,000 languages will become extinct by the end of the

Access full article here.

Barney Old Coyote

Barney Old Coyote [Apsaalooke/Crow], was featured in this recent news article from the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. He was a “wind talker” in WWII and is also a fluent sign talker. Old Coyote participated in our NSF funded project’s 2010 meeting and workshops on the Northern Cheyenne [Tse’tsehestahese] reservation in southeastern Montana. Thanks Barney and the Old Coyote family for years of leadership!

View the article here!

Also, here’s a short sample video clip of Barney Old Coyote signing the Apsaalooke/Crow way with James Wooden Legs. At the same time Old Coyote is speaking English for non-singing members of the audience. Lin Marksbury is doing the ASL interpretation of what Barney is signing/speaking. We are in the process of adding captions and video examples of signing that occurs without speech accompaniment.

World Federation of the Deaf Conference

Early in November the WFD met in Ål, Norway. Their topic this year was “Sign Languages as Endangered Languages”. The conference pulled from many different professions (academics, language policy experts, representatives from deaf associations, and deaf community members) and brought to light many issues that affect sign languages worldwide. The link below will take you to their page where they have posted both a written and a signed summary.

View the summary here

James Wooden Legs Introduction

In this video clip: James Wooden Legs, who is both fluent in Plains Indian Sign Language and American Sign Language, gives a short self-introduction. He code-switches between PISL and ASL, so that viewers (non-PISL signers) can understand his PISL utterances – thus, skillfully providing his own translations. In the near future we will be posting a few more examples including more PISL signing.

English Translation


James Wooden Legs (Northern Cheyenne) is a Deaf Native signer of Plains Indian Sign Language (PISL). He learned PISL natively from his family growing up on the N. Cheyenne [Tse’tsehestahese] reservation in southeastern Montana. Later, James attended the Montana School for the Deaf and learned ASL. He is a renowned presenter and involved in the revitalization of PISL and an active member of Deaf and American Indian communities. He currently lives in Albuquerque, NM. Recently, James gave a major presentation at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester, NY.


Tommy Rockroads Clip on PISL

In this clip, Tommy Rockroads [N. Cheyenne/Tse’tsehestahese], a fluent PISL user, explains why he learned PISL and why he believes it is important to keep the language alive. Jeffrey Davis (PISL documentation project, PI) interprets his words into ASL. Tommy is also fluent in spoken Cheyenne and English, but he does not know ASL. Soon, we will post a few sample clips of Tommy signing PISL. Stay tuned!