The Secret Sign Language of the Ottoman Court

The Secret Sign Language of the Ottoman Court

Deaf servants were favored companions of the sultan.

In the 1600s, some 40 deaf servants were employed by the Ottoman court in Constantinople, writes Amelia Soth in JSTOR Daily.

They were specifically chosen because of their deafness. These servants were favored companions of the sultan; their facility in nonverbal communication made them indispensable to the court, because decorum restricted speech in the sultan’s presence.

The deaf attendants taught pages to communicate through signs. A European observer, Ottaviano Bon, wrote that “both the Grand Signor, and divers that are about him, can reason, and discourse with the Mutes of any thing: as well and as distinctly, alla Mutescha, by nods and signes, as they can with words.”

Silence and seclusion were a way to express the sultan’s majesty to his people and to visitors from foreign countries.

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