Whenever we think of sign language, maybe the first thing that comes to mind is the American Sign Language we are all familiar with. However, did you know that there are different kinds of visual languages? Similar to spoken languages, there are a variety of languages used by people worldwide.
For example, in the United Kingdom, the most commonly used official sign language is British Sign Language (BSL). This language consists of lip patterns, body movements, hand signals, and facial expressions. Like British English, its structure and grammar differs from American English. For instance, the English sentence structure would follow a subject + verb + object structure. Meanwhile, BSL would follow this structure: Topic + comment, where the topic is first stated, then a comment about it follows. The BSL alphabet is called fingerspelling. As the name suggests, it spells words out using the fingers. This is used for when words have no particular sign, like names.
Another visual language akin to BSL would be Australian Sign Language (Auslan). Like all sign languages, Auslan combines hand gestures, facial expressions, and body postures. It also follows a vocabulary and grammar structure different from American English. In relation to fingerspelling, Auslan and BSL use a two-handed system to sign the alphabet. Furthermore, Auslan has dialects differentiated based from their region of origin. The main dialects are southern and northern, which may differ in vocabulary and signs for colors, days of the week, and numbers.
In other parts of the world, minority groups in South Africa use South African Sign Language (SASL) to communicate. At present, there is no official syntax followed in SASL. Similar to BSL, this language instead follows the Topic + comment structure for communicating. In addition, some general guidelines of SASL include: verbs are signed first while time-related signs are last, and article words like “the '' are not signed. Currently, SASL is on its way to being recognized as the 12th official language of the country.
Meanwhile, Asian countries like the Philippines have their own national sign language used by the Filipino Deaf Community, referred to as Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Despite this being influenced by ASL, it still has its own syntax, morphology, and phonology. These differences are a result of the gradual evolution of the language. Just like spoken Filipino, FSL tends to be more expressive than ASL. Thus, there is more emphasis on facial expressions and body movements.
Overall, we can see that sign language is not universal. These are just very few examples of the roughly 300 sign languages used globally. There are a variety of sign languages unique to their own country of origin. As part of our approach in promoting inclusivity and diversity, we wanted to raise awareness and educate people more about such sign languages. Although some languages are not as popular as ASL, it is still good to know about these. With that in mind, what sign language do you want to learn about next?