Because of the subtlety of the compositional system it is unlikely that all the principles used in the,ancient, Native American, compositions have been determined. The actual associations and the extentof these associations is also somewhat problematical. It would be difficult to assert that we know all thecosmological associations, as well as the depth of associations made with nature. Hopefully we haveuncovered enough of the main rules for the reader to gain a general idea of about various composition'smeaning. For the present it appears that the following rules were used in organizing and composing thecompositions. The compositional system was non linear and could be read beginning at any given pointas long as the logical order was rearranged mentally.
. Gesture signs were depicted by hand motions made in the air and relied onthe reader's memory to retain the message from one sign to the other. The same system could nothave been used in written sign language because writing signs on top of one another would haveresulted in a hopeless tangle of signs. Thus signs were separated by organizing them spatially suchas grouping the Forms and Imagery into patterns. For our purposes Form, Imagery, and Gestureelements are all considered Signs. Generally the signs appear to have been read from the largest signto the smallest.
The Initial or Total Form (shape)
. This could be considered the title or subject of the composition.It has not yet been learned how one should determine Total Form. At times it seems that one should just visually trace the outline to gain the Form. At other times this seems to result in an incoherentshape or perhaps it is just we are not able to recognize a shape that was well known among the cultures.
Found within other Forms or Forms with a comparative reduction in size. Also smallgroupings of Forms separate from the Major Form.
. Usually imagery was composed of elementary gesture signs that held an associational(what was, anciently, considered the essence of the depicted subject) value. Such imagery was oftenthe equivalent of a phrase in English. An example would be an Image of a Frog to represent theconcept of,
the one that leaps upward.Basic Gesture Signs.
Literally hundreds of such signs have been historically documented, in texts
on Native American sign language, and can be used to assist in learning the meaning of theassociational imagery through context. These signs were drawn leaving out the depiction of thehands so one should concentrate only on the lines or motions made by the hands. The resultantlines and the form they took was what was considered important. For example, a large “X” shapedsign was based on the gesture of two arms crossing each others in the act of a trade. This sign wasalso used for an
, or a
depending on its context.
The compositional system was very logical as will be seen from the illustrations below.We will begin with the straight line sign for
.If we wished to write, on the surface we would simply position a vertical line
on the surface line.
1 Tomkins, William. Indian Sign Language, Dover Publications, Inc. New York 1969.2 http://www.inquiry.net/outdoor/native/sign/index.htm (a compilation of basic gesture signs)