The Silent Applause


In 2011 a social movement took place in Spain with an important impact both nationally and internationally. It was known as the 15-M Movement, which emerged mainly from the disaffection of a part of the population with political authority.

Well then, one of the contributions that Deaf people and Sign Language made to this social movement was what came to be called 'silent applause', typical of the Deaf community, which consists of flapping hands in the air, looking for a visual effect similar to a sound applause.

Aplauso característico de las personas sordas durante la Acampada Sol en Madrid
Silent applause at Puerta del Sol. (photo: Claudio Álvarez / El País)

The following video, of just a few seconds, is a silent applause at the Puerta del Sol in Madrid on 15 October 2011:

This gesture is still used out of the deaf community as a form of protest. Sometimes, to avoid excessive noise (as in protest and concentrations of 15-M), or when there are rules of etiquette that do not allow public demonstration, for example, in government institutions.

A relatively recent beginning

Silent applause is also known as 'Deaf applause' or 'visual applause'. The beginning of silent applause is uncertain but it is believed to have reemerged at different times and in different backgrounds. One of the known stories is that of Beethoven when he finished performing the ninth symphony in 1824, in which the audience, as well as the usual applause, flapped hands in the air knowing the deafness of the composer.

Anyway, Deaf applause is not as old in the Deaf community as one might think. For example, it is estimated to have come to American Sign Language (ASL) from French Sign Language (LSF) in 1985, but it became popular very quickly, especially with the well-known Deaf President Now protest at the Gallaudet University in 1988.

Nowadays, it is a very universal gesture in all the Deaf communities of the world and, in Spain, it enjoys a wide popularity among the hearing population.


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