Sign language, as you know, is a way for hearing-impaired people to communicate with others through a series of hand gestures. You might wonder if these gestures have anything to do with body language. Can a person communicate anger or happiness through his hands, for example? When hearing people have a conversation, they focus on each other's facial cues, body position, and eye contact. Since a deaf person has to concentrate on the other person's hands in order to “hear” what the other person is saying, you might think that he might miss these body language cues. But you'd be wrong.
The hearing-impaired rely on body language (facial cues are especially important) to get the full meaning of any given interaction. Nonverbal gestures are to sign language what voice inflection is to spoken communication: a simple way to assess another person's emotional state of mind. And just as spoken dialects vary, signers from different regions of the country or from different ethnic groups or even from different families have their own “accent,” or way of imparting their intended messages.
Since the hands have so much to say — in sign language as well as in verbal interactions — it's important to be aware of the messages you're sending and receiving. Take the time to learn the basic meaning of hand gestures, and you'll always be in the know.