McKay-Cody’s Research Published on NSF Website

A William Woods University instructor’s research on Plains Indian Sign Language is featured in the National Science Foundation’s online magazine, Science Nation.


Melanie McKay-Cody, instructor of American Sign Language and Interpreting, is a Chickamauga Cherokee/Choctaw Indian. She is the first Deaf researcher to specialize in North American Indian Sign Language, and has worked closely with American Indian/Alaska Native/First Nation Deaf and hard of hearing people to promote Deaf Native Studies.


The Plains Indian Sign Language is known as “hand talk” or “sign talk.” The language has been used by both Deaf and hearing Indians from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico for at least 200 years, possibly much longer.


James Woodenlegs of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana, and Jeffery Davis, a sign language scholar, are working with McKay-Cody to document and preserve hand talk on the world’s endangered languages.


With help from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the three are conducting field research to find current users of hand talk and compile a dictionary. They are videotaping interviews with Northern Cheyenne, Assiniboine, Sioux, Crow and several other tribes.


“We are collecting these videos and not just leaving them on a shelf to collect dust. We are annotating, captioning and sharing them,” explains McKay-Cody. “Our goal is to use these for education and to raise awareness about this language, to use it in teaching. That’s my goal, to educate others.”


For more information or to view the video and read the piece online visit: