A study at the University of Hawaii at Manoa concluded a small group of deaf islanders are still able to communicate with a vocabulary of hand signs that was developed before the universal sign language now in use was introduced in the 1940s.
Hawaiian Sign Language had its origins in the early 1800s and is practiced by about 40 Hawaiians. Most are over the age of 80, which adds urgency to the need to fully study and document it, researchers told CNN.
"It is also hoped that an effort can be made to revitalize HSL, so that it can be taught in high schools and universities in Hawaii," said adjunct linguistics professor James Woodward.
Woodward said the grammar of Hawaiian Sign Language is different than universal signing and about 80 percent of the gestures are different from the more-common American Sign Language.
"Sign languages ... evolve in a community of users, and are not signed versions of spoken languages," the university said in a written statement.