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Sign Language Diversity:

 Nimrata Randhawa


Sign Language around the world

A "signed language" is a language which uses manual communication instead of sound to convey meaning- simultaneously combining hand shapes, orientation, and movement of the hands, arms, or body and facial expressions to express fluidly a speakers thoughts (Wikipedia, 2006). Communication between people using different sign languages is easier than communication when people of different spoken languages meet. Sign language provides access to an international deaf community (Bellis, 2004).

However sign language is not universal. Sign language develops in communities where deaf people exist, but like spoken languages, they vary from region to region (Klima, 1979). Sign language of a certain region is not based on the spoken language of that region , in fact their complex spatial grammars are considerably different. Some sign languages have received recognition and are well known throughout the world while some have received no acknowledgment at all.

Hundreds of different types of sign languages are in use around the world and they are at the core of local deaf cultures. Some of these countries that have their own variation of sign language include Australia, Argentina, Brazil, China, India and many other countries. There are a various signed “modes” of spoken languages that have developed, such as signed English, Warlpiri sign language, British sign language, etc (Wikipedia, 2006). Each of these sign languages, though similar in many ways have their own variations of certain words. How you would sign “apple” in the English sign language could vary from the way it is signed in the British sign language.

British sign language (BSL) is the sign languages used in the United Kingdom (UK), and it the most commonly used among the deaf community in the UK. Although the United Kingdom and the United States both have English as a primary spoken language, Bristish sign language is quite different from American sign language (ASL). In BSL when you fingerspell you use both hands whereas ASL uses one hand. BSL is a visual-gestural language with its own vocabulary and grammatical structures ( Wikipedia, 2006). BSL has many regional dialects. Which is why signs used in America or Scotland, for example, may not always be understood in England and vice versa (Wikedia, 2006). Sign language can also sometimes be a local thing, occuring in only cities and towns, like the Manchester number system used mostly by the locals of Manchester. Like many terms in the spoken language that go in and out of fashion and also tend to eveolve over time the same goes for sign language.

Australian Sign Language, or Auslan, is the sign language used in Australia. It has been somewhat influenced by American Sign Language, and British Sign Language (Bellis, 2004). Like other sign languages, Auslan also has aspects of its grammar and vocabulary that are quite distinct from English. Auslan is a natural language distinct from spoken or written English (Wikipedia, 2006). English does have a great influence on Auslan especially when it comes to fingerspelling. It is difficult though to speak English while signing in Auslan because the word order is different making it complicated to do both at the same time. Although Auslan’s status and recognition is growing, there is some speculation that it is an endangered language ( Johnston, 2004).

ASL, BSL, and Auslan are just a few of the hundreds of different sign languages in the world. Although sign language is not universal, each country does have it own distinctive sign language that will continue to evolve over time. Even when two Deaf people from different countries do not know International Sign they can usually find a way to communicate with a mixture of their own sign languages, gesture and mime. Characteristically, this communication happens much more quickly and easily than communication between two hearing people who do not speak the same language (Maggs, 2005).


Bellis, M. (2004). Innovations for the hearing impaired.

Johnston, T. (2004). W(h)ither the Deaf Community? Population, Genetics, and the
Future of Australian Sign Language, American Annals of the Deaf - Volume 148, Number 5, Spring 2004, pp. 358-375. Gallaudet University Press.

Klima, Edward S.; & Bellugi, Ursula. (1979). The signs of language. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press.

Maggs, Trevor. (2005). Australian Association of the deaf Inc. The Australian deaf Community.

Wikipedia Foundation, Inc. 6 December 2006. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia.


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