What is Sign Language?

Deaf people around the world communicate using sign language as distinct from spoken language in their everyday lives. A Sign Language is a visual language that uses a system of manual, facial and body movements as the means of communication.

Sign Language is not a universal language, and different sign languages are used in different countries, like the many spoken languages all over the world.

Some countries such as Belgium, the USA or India may have more than one sign language. Hundreds of sign languages are in used around the world, for instance, Japanese Sign Language, (or Nihon Show, JSL), Spanish Sign Language (Lengua de signos o sends sepanola, or LSE), Turkish Sign Language (Turk Israel Dili, TID).

Sign Languages can be analysed at the phonological, morphological, grammatical and lexical levels, and there are differences at each of these levels between the many different sign languages. There are however language families of sign languages: American Sign Language, French Sign Language (langue des signed franchise, LSF) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) are a part of the same sign language family.

Some of the world’s sign languages are legally recognised in national laws or constitutions, or are mentioned in the laws of different countries, such as those relating to education, the justice system, etc. Other sign languages are not recognised or considered as languages. Deaf communities all over the world strive to have their Sign Languages recognised as fully-fledged languages and to secure their rights to live daily life in their sign language.

Having access to  signed language is central to any Deaf person, child or adult for their cognitive, social, emotional and linguistic growth. Signed languages are acquired by children in the same timeframe as spoken languages and this acquisition process. It is important that deaf children at early ages have access to a sign language – it should be understood as their first language, their education can be achieved bilingually in the national sign language and the national written/spoken language.

Language and culture are interrelated. Deaf culture is deeply dependent and rooted in signed languages.