While current debates oppose the cochlear implant's privileging of speech acquisition to teaching sign language, nineteenth-century debates, in contrast, opposed those who saw sign language as a tool for learning to read and write, and those who saw in it an autonomous language for organizing thought itself. Should the order of gestural signs follow written syntax? Or should it have its own coherence, that is, possibly a different syntax and order of enunciation? Starting with these questions, distinct teaching legacies developed, specifying which kinds of signs to use in which context and what role signs were to fulfill. This article focuses on French deaf and hearing teachers whose positions were influential throughout Europe and the United States, moving from Abbé de l'Epée's 1784 method to Rémi Valade's 1854 publication of the first sign language grammar.