Reviving Sign Language at Martha's Vineyard... In the first floor conference room of the West Tisbury library, a quiet conversation is taking place.
“Good morning, how many people are here today?” asks Lynn Thorp. She also signs each word. Her companions, husband Bill Thorp and friend Gail Tipton reply slowly, carefully forming their hands into each sign. “Say it as you’re doing it so that we know where you are,” Mrs. Thorp says to her husband.
Then she gives instruction: “Here’s the horizon, the sun comes up, this is noon, this is afternoon, this is evening and this is midnight.”
“I can’t do that,” said Ms. Tipton.
“But you did it!” responds Mrs. Thorp.
The sign language lesson is part of a project called MV Signs: Then and Now, Ms. Thorp’s endeavor to revive Martha’s Vineyard sign language, which was used by both the hearing and non-hearing on the Island from the 17th to 19th century. The project began three years ago, when Mr. Thorp’s hearing loss was having a large impact on the couple’s daily interactions.
Lynn Thorp learned to sign when her husband began losing his hearing. “We had a really hard time communicating comfortably,” Mrs. Thorp said. “His hearing [loss] is quite profound. As soon as the room changes, the ceiling is too high or there is any background noise, his hearing doesn’t happen for him.
So I thought, wow, there must be some answer.” And there was. Mrs. Thorp heard about a sign language class held at Woodside Village, and quickly joined. When the class ended, she discovered the Interax Video Sign Language Course at the West Tisbury Library, a dated but informative series of sign language lessons led by Lyn Cook in 1989. She invited a friend to practice with her as well as several seniors from Woodside Village.