George Dalgarno (1626-1687)

George Dalgarno (1616-1687) was known as a writer of language. He was born in Old Aberdeen, Scotland. No primary documents have survived concerning his family background. There is no record of him graduating but there are records of him attending Marischal College in Aberdeen. After attending Marischal College, Dalgarno disappears. There isn’t a given year but he somehow reappears in Oxford teaching grammar school. While in Oxford, Dalgarno was convinced by Samuel Hartlib to write an upgraded system of shorthand that could be used for scientific purposes. It was titled Ars Signorum and was published in 1657.

Dalgarno sought to create a universal language and even sought the help of John Wilkins whom he came to know through his association with the Oxford Philosophical Club otherwise known as the basis for the Royal Society.  An inability to agree on content resulted in Wilkins printing his own ideas on the subject. Unfortunately for Dalgarno, critics believed that Wilkins’s writings overshadowed Dalgarno’s. Dalgarno on the other hand believed that they were radically different in nature and people just didn’t understand his. Regardless of his belief that his work was misunderstood, his disagreement with Wilkins caused Dalgarno to stop his association with the Oxford Philosophical Club.

After the restoration in 1660, he was appointed master of Queen Elizabeth College only to return to Oxford by 1662. Around this time, though the year is unknown, Dalgarno married Margaret Johnston. Margaret bore nine children, though unfortunately not all survived infancy. In fact, it is unknown how many children did survive, if any. In 1670 e again took mastery of Queen Elizabeth College only to resign in 1672 on ill health.


Emma Pitts


Works Cited

In 1680 Dalgarno published Didascalocophus, or The Deaf and Dumb Man’s Tutor. This book was a creation of a language for both the deaf and the mute. It became the basis for what is known as sign language today.

Dalgarno’s health continued to deteriorate and on August 28, 1687 he died of fever, in the comfort of his home in Oxford.

Cram, David. “Dalgarno, George (c.1616–1687).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. May 2006. 5 Nov. 2014 <>.