Sign Languages around the World

Sign Languages around the World

Sign languages are the main source of communication for deaf and mute people. Sign Language or SL is part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

Each verbal language has its own sign language, but this doesn’t mean that sign languages are variants from Vocal-auditory languages. Sign languages have their own independent history, culture and grammar

Worldwide Sign Languages

There are between 138 and 300 Sign Languages around the world. Sign languages have their own phonology, morphology and syntax, which is expressed through four phonological parameters: handshape, hand orientation, location and movements. Also gestures, face and body expressions are part of visual-gestural languages. To represent the written alphabet SL use “fingerspelling”, some one-handed and others such as the British Sign Language, two-handed. 

Some oral languages such as English have three Sign Languages: American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Contrary to verbal Spanish, Mexican and Spanish Sign Language are different languages

Spain is one of the few countries in the world that recognizes LSE (Spanish Sign Language) as one of the country’s official languages. 

In some parts of the US, Canada and Northern Mexico most indigenous populations speak their own SL, which is known as “Plains Indian Sign Talk”. 

In Turkey more than 84.000 people are not able to hear or speak, according to a survey from the Turkish Disability Survey (TDS) in 2002. 

Turkish Sign Language (TİD) 

Sign Language was developed much earlier in Eastern countries than in the West. To put an example, British Sign Language was developed during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Turkish Sign Language has a long history. Historical evidence shows that TİD dates back even before the origin of the verbal Turkish language, in 2000 – 1200 BC, during the rule of The Hittites. Same as Anatolian Sign Language (SL), it is known thanks to hieroglyphs that Egypt also had its SL in 1200 BC. Greece also developed its own SL, which was discussed by famous philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle and Plato

Sign Language was known in the Ottoman Empire as “the language of silence”. People who spoke it were referred to as “dilsiz”, which translates into English as “language-less” or “tongueless”. The 19th century Ottoman Empire was one of the first places which implemented a special education system for Sign Language with the opening of schools for deaf people throughout the Empire. 

Raising Social Awareness of Sign Language

Even though Sign Language can be learned in many public and private education institutions, most people don’t learn it. The main problem of most hearing and talking impared people is communication, because, even if they learn and speak SL, most people don’t. That is why social awareness of Sign Language is a crucial step towards more social integration for people who face hearing and talking complications. From PRODER we want to encourage more people to learn Sign Language. SL is needed in all parts of life: education, workspaces and leisure activities.

It is interesting to note that some technological experts are working on technology-based devices using headphones or gloves that translate Sign Languages into verbal languages and vice versa. We hope to see many technological advances towards this field in order to reach more social integration.

To finish we have a recommendation for all our readers: La famille Bélier, a French comedy movie that evolves around social integration of deaf people and communication between deaf and non-deaf people. A beautiful fact about the film is that the protagonist is not deaf but she is bilingüal; native Sign Language speaker and native French.

Irene Adolph Crespo