Is Sign Language Universal?

Hello!

Many of the posts on this section of the blog are often inspired by events and experiences that have shaped my understanding and knowledge of d/Deaf Awareness over the years, but sometimes the same misconceptions and ignorant comments crop up time and time again.

One misconception I want to talk about today is Sign Language and whether it is universal or not.

Whilst there is International Sign, an auxiliary language that is mainly used for international meetings and events such as the Deaflympics, and comprised of common signs heavily influenced by American Sign Language, Sign Language is not universal.

Similarly to spoken languages, it is unique to every country, and they’re not always understandable by users.

Some examples:

  • UK – British Sign Language (BSL)
  • Ireland – Irish Sign Language (ISL)
  • France – French Sign Language (LSF)
  • America – American Sign Language (ASL)
  • Australia – AUSLAN
  • Germany – German Sign Language
  • Canada – Use ASL and French Canadian Sign Language (Quebec Sign Language)

However, there can be similarities in the signs. For example, BSL and AUSLAN use the same two-handed alphabet. The same can be said for ISL, ASL and LSF because whilst they might differ with a couple of the letters, their one-handed alphabet is almost identical. Nonetheless, language evolution and development means that they are still completely different languages and unique to their own country.

To make it doubly confusing and unique, signs for each language vary depending on what region of a country you live in – the signs my sister and I use often confuse people because we pick up variations from all across the UK. Also, when I did my level 1 BSL qualification, my tutor once told me off for using what she called a “wrong” sign. I wasn’t wrong; I had just used a different sign that wasn’t regional to the area in which I was taking my class.

In simple words, if a word in English has geographical variations, the same can be applied to Sign Language.

It is something you do get used to though. It can take a while, and it certainly did for me, but I think that if you can learn variations of the same sign then you are more adaptable as a signer.

Just note that mixing two Sign Languages together is never a good idea!!

I think that having many variations of Sign Language is what makes it interesting as a language. I know when I was living in France and learning a little about French Sign Language, I got really caught up in its linguistic history and evolution. It also made me realise how much I love learning about language as a whole, whether it is spoken or signed.


And I think that is that.

I know that this is one of the most common misconceptions so I hope I have managed to straighten it out a little.

Thanks for reading and have a good day!
xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

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