‘The Preservation of Sign Language’ film holds new meaning 100 years later

William Woods ASL

Around 1912-1913, George W. Veditz, one time president of the National Association of the Deaf of the United States, gave his famous ‘Preservation’ speech about the importance of preserving the language on film.

According to Arika Okrent for Mental Floss, Veditz gave this speech at a time when deaf schools were switching to the oral method, after an 1880 resolution of the International Congress on Education of the Deaf.

“Even at oral schools where signing was forbidden, students continued to use it among themselves and in this way it was passed, surreptitiously and often under threat of punishment, from generation to generation,” Okrent says, “By 1913, sign language had been pushed so effectively out of the realm of education that the Deaf community feared for its survival.”

In this film, Veditz touches on the importance of preserving the language through film.

“Fifty years from now, these moving picture films will be priceless,” Veditz says. 100 years later, they are even more meaningful, as films that show this pivotal time in American Sign Language history, as well as the evolution of the language.

American Sign Language

This film was recorded into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2010 as a film ‘deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant”’ and as a ‘work of enduring importance to American Culture’.

Read an English transcript of Veditz’ speech.