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Cardassian sign language is a gestural form of communication used by the Cardassian species, and is a language in its own right separate from the spoken Cardăsda language. While an official version exists for use in military and government functions, multiple idioms and dialects exist in practice, some influenced to a greater degree by Cardăsda than others. Cultural unity policies by the Cardassian government, however, prevent too much divergence, so most of these dialects remain mutually intelligible.
Like any full-fledged sign language it serves as the primary mode of communication for some Cardassians considered to be hearing- or speech- impaired, it has also enjoyed an unusual degree of use among Cardassians with normal hearing and speech capabilities in situations where speech is considered impractical or undesirable. In fact, all Cardassians who serve in the Guard are trained in the language and are generally fluent, which means that a large percentage of the population is familiar with it. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--The Thirteenth Order)
This is largely due to the Cardassian sense of hearing. While their hearing is adequate enough for most purposes and Cardassians therefore speak as their primary mode of communication, they are not as able to pick out subtle sounds such as whispering, or to sort out coherent information from high ambient noise levels. (DS9: "Distant Voices") This means that sometimes, rather than trying to shout over the noise (other than, perhaps, to call someone's name to get their attention), or to whisper, a Cardassian with normal hearing will sometimes choose to sign instead, to avoid miscommunication.
Before first contact, and amongst themselves, Cardassians thought nothing unusual of this split mode of communication; cultural attitudes towards sign, even in pre-spaceflight days, were always significantly different from those on some worlds such as Earth given the hearing population's use of the language. Sign language was not simply the province of the deaf, but also of those who held jobs where speech could not always serve reliably--a thing of everyday use or at least a part of one's cultural landscape for hearing as well as deaf. In pre-Union days, before the language standardization that affected both spoken and signed language, every Cardassian ethnic group had its own form of sign language.
In modern times, however, the prominence of the Cardassian sign language is not well known outside of the Cardassian Union due to the fact that many Cardassians believe that it would be perceived by others as a sign of weakness to show the degree to which their overall society uses sign language: suggesting a relative sensory deficit is something they feel makes them look vulnerable in the eyes of their enemies. Similarly, for other species to bring up the commonality of its use could be regarded--depending on the parties to the conversation--as an insult to the Cardassian race. However, exceptions have been made in cases where great trust has been established with non-Cardassians, such as in the case of the human Lt. Cdr. Makis Spirodopoulos and the other members of the combined rebel force, the Thirteenth Order.
Most of what is known of Cardassian sign language outside the Cardassian Union (aside, perhaps, from intelligence circles) are the simple military gestures seen on the battlefield, and most Starfleet or other soldiers do not realize they are seeing words that belong to a full language as opposed to the sort of combat signaling common to humanoid species. Often Cardassians, when in view of other species, choose not to use a full, grammatically-complete dialect in order to keep the adversary from picking up on the fact.
When true Cardassian sign language is used, however, the difference is often very obvious to those who are watching. In addition to the language's broad vocabulary of word and fingerspelling signs (which are capable of rendering anything that can be spoken), facial expression and lip movements are also incorporated into the signer's message similar to how they might be in other species' sign languages. As one might expect, certain cues would seem modified or unfamiliar to other species. For instance, given that the eye ridges are less mobile than the eyebrows of species like humans, Vulcans, and Bajorans, this cue might seem subtle or difficult to notice to non-Cardassians. Conversely, the human or Vulcan gesture might seem exaggerated to Cardassian eyes. Also, certain signs use uniquely Cardassian points of reference upon the body, such as the facial, neck, and chest ridges.
- One sign often seen in military use is the so-called command gesture. The signer places his fist upon the chest where the legate's crest would be located on a Cardassian uniform. This generally translates as My decision will stand, and is a way of closing debate. (Star Trek: Sigils and Unions--The Thirteenth Order)
- Like any language, Cardassian sign language has its share of obscenities. A particularly crude one uses a circled thumb and forefinger, and extended little finger, on each hand, and a thrust of one hand to the other indicates the act one suggests the other party commits when off duty. The sign can also be used in a less literal sense to indicate general disdain towards someone, much like the human "middle finger" gesture. ("Let He Who Has Eyes See")
Kurabda sign languageEdit
This language has its roots in Hebitian days, but in the main Star Trek: Sigils and Unions universe was extinguished along with most knowledge from minority cultures; it was forcibly replaced with standard Cardassian sign language (referred to most frequently as the common sign language by AU Cardassians).
However, in the Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius universe, it remains in common use by members of the Kurabda tribes on Cardassia Prime. Non-native users of Kurabda sign language include resistance fighter Skrain Dukat, who learned the language due to a religious vow and, as was done with the common sign language, continued to use it at times for tactical reasons. (Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil)
- Sometimes Kurabda or those taking their disciplines take a vow of silence. To indicate this vow, the signer extends index and middle finger together and touches them to the lips, then the throat.
- "Thank you" is indicated by putting the hands together (similarly to the gesture many humans make when praying) with the thumbs touching the chest, then pointing the hands toward the person or persons being thanked, in an arrowlike motion.
- "Oralius" is signed by touching the fingertips to the area between the hairline and the hooks of the eye ridges, then sweeping the hands up and splaying the fingers towards the horizon. This sign alludes to the recitation mask worn by Oralian Guides and some others when they pray.
- The sign for "afraid" is made by crossing the arms with clawlike fingers and drawing the hands down towards the heart. (The Cardassian heart is located at the center of the chest in a higher position than it is for a human.)
- "Come!" is signed with a crook of the fingers much like the common gesture in Western countries on Earth.
- A known grammatical component, though not a word, is to intensify a sign by opening the mouth while making that sign (the greater the degree, the greater the intended emphasis).
- Fingerspelling is part of the Kurabda sign language. Whether the hand shapes represent letters of the common Cardăsda alphabet or of another alphabet is unknown.
(Sigils and Unions: Catacombs of Oralius--The Desolate Vigil)