Our History


Paget Gorman Signed Speech was originated by Sir Richard Paget in the 1930s and developed by Grace Paget and Dr Pierre Gorman (lately Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and now University of Melbourne). It is a grammatical sign system which reflects normal patterns of English and is used by many speech and language-impaired children, their parents, teachers, speech therapists and care staff.

Sir Richard Paget published his book Human Speech in 1930, in which he gave an account of his work and research on speech. While engaged in this work, he had studied existing Sign Language, and had come to the conclusion that the mouth gestures of speech originally derived from pantomimic hand gestures: in other words, that sign language is the original form of all speech.

Prebendary Albert Smith, O.B.E., then Senior Chaplain to the Royal Association in Aid of the Deaf and Dumb first interested Sir Richard in the communication problems of deaf people. He saw the need for a systematic sign language whereby each word would have its own sign, with the signs presented in the same sequence as the words in the phrases or sentences to be signed. In 1934 Prebendary Smith asked Sir Richard if he could devise such a sign language, and Sir Richard agreed to try. He continued his intensive study of existing sign languages, and from them he selected signs that seemed to be reasonably pantomimic. He concluded that each group of ideas with a common basis -- those to do with time, position, food, etc. -- should have a basic sign of its own. With the help of an identifying gesture each word in that group could be signed, and such signs would be comparatively easy to understand, to remember, and to perform. Sir Richard worked on this New Sign Language with a group of associates from 1934-1939, and again after the War. He eventually evolved about 3,000 signs and in 1951 published a children's vocabulary of 900 signs and a Teachers' Handbook. Sir Richard died in 1955 before the work was completed, but Lady Paget, who had worked closely with her husband, looked for a suitable collaborator to help her to continue. Dr Pierre Gorman (former Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) joined her in 1957, and together they completely revised the original signs, omitting some and making many new ones. Dr Gorman's unique contribution made the wording of the instructions for performing the signs clear and consistent, thereby ensuring uniformity of practice. It has only been necessary to illustrate the Standard Hand Postures and the Basic Signs. The System became known as the Paget Gorman Sign Speech in recognition of Dr Gorman's valuable work.

The first experimental teaching of the system began in 1964 with a group of deaf adults. Since then teachers of deaf children, of mentally handicapped, partially sighted, severely physically handicapped and children with specific language problems in this country and overseas have used the system. A critical research into the system was undertaken by Miss Elma Craig at the Department of Linguistic Science, Reading University, where Miss Craig held a Research Fellowship, and in 1973 she produced a comprehensive report of her three years' study. Tribute must also be paid to her for her very valuable work in teaching and in publicising the system.

Dr Gorman returned to Australia, his native country, in 1973. Miss Joan Shields and Miss Majorie Philpott did valuable work on the system and Miss Philpott compiled a shortened version of the Manual, containing a selected vocabulary for use with younger and less able children, which is useful for parents and others needing a smaller vocabulary of signs. More recent publications have included two illustrated reading books for children, a set of illustrated parents' handbooks and additions of modern vocabulary to the full manual.

Lady Paget died in 1982. In 1981 the Association for Experiment in Deaf Education which at that time administered The Paget Gorman Sign System appointed a full time Development Officer, Mr Bob Newey, to organize and promote the system. Bob Newey retired from this position at Easter 1999.

In its early days the system was used nearly exclusively in the education of the deaf but the emergence of systems based on British Sign Language (BSL) such as Signed English, which allow a smoother transition to adult use of BSL, has meant that currently (2000) the major use of the system is in the field of speech and language disorder.

The main resource of Society is the manual which has a vocabulary of over 4,000 signs, including the 2,000 words on which the definitions in Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English are based. In terms of explanation and by the use of the various affixes, it is estimated that the manual gives access to the meaning of nearly 56,000 words. The manual has been edited in Cambridge since the 1970's firstly by Dr Robin Anderson (Computer Laboratory) and latterly by Mr Richard Stibbs.

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