Ottoman Sign Language, also known as Seraglio Sign Language or Harem Sign Language, was a deaf sign language of the Ottoman court in Istanbul. Nothing is known of it directly, but it is reported that it could communicate ideas of any complexity, and that it was passed on to the young through fables, histories, and scripture.
In 16th and 17th centuries, deaf pages, doormen, executioners, and companions of the sultan were valued for their ability to communicate silently, for their inability to overhear sensitive information at secret negotiations, and for the difficulty outsiders had in communicating with them or bribing them. At court, silence was at a premium, and several sultans preferred that sign language be used in their presence; they were able to jest with them in a way that would be inappropriately familiar in Turkish. Osman II (r. 1618–1622) was perhaps the first sultan to learn to sign, and ordered many of the hearing of his court to follow his lead. At their height, there may have been over a hundred deaf courtiers at any one time; it was considered undignified for the sultan to address his subjects orally, and also unseemly for those before him either to speak aloud, disturbing him, or to whisper secretly.
It is not known whether Ottoman Sign Language was ancestral to modern Turkish Sign Language, as no signs were recorded.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, 1995, "Framed: the deaf in the harem". In Terry, Jennifer, and Jacqueline Urla, Deviant bodies: critical perspectives on difference in science and popular culture. Indiana University Press, p.49–77.
^a Sign-language names reflect the region of origin. Natural sign languages are not related to the spoken language used in the same region. For example, French Sign Language originated in France, but is not related to French.
^b Denotes the number (if known) of languages within the family. No further information is given on these languages.