Skip to main content
Library homepage
Social Sci LibreTexts

4.3: Sign Languages

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Sign Language is a formal language using a system of hand gestures and movements, typically replacing vocalization. Sign language is the dominant language for the deaf community. Like any other language, it has its own unique structure and linguistic components. Also similar to how most languages are learned, sign language is learned through visualization, practice, and patience. However, understanding that 90% of the deaf community have hearing parents, sign language is mostly learned in schools because for those 90%, sign language is not their mother tongue [5]. However, spoken languages are faster than the sign language, which means that it takes a longer time. There are many types of Sign Language around the world, including:

    • American Sign Language - used primarily in North America, English spoken parts of Canada and Mexico and small countries
    • French Sign Language - used in France, Switzerland, Mali, Rwanda, Congo, Togo, Vietnam
    • Ethiopean Sign Language - used in Ethiopia
    • Spanish Sign Language - used in many parts of Spain
    • Arabic Sign Language - used across the Middle East

    American Sign Language

    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Hands Signing "A.S.L."

    American Sign Language is an intricate language that uses signs made with the hands and other movements such as facial expressions and postures of the body. Sign language is the fourth most commonly used language in the United States.[6]

    ASL originated when Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an apprentice lawyer, and Laurent Clerc, a prominent, deaf man that was fluent in French Sign Language, founded the American School for the Deaf. This was the first of its kind in the U.S., and in 1817 the school would witness seven students become the first class to graduate.

    ASL was not recognized as a legitimate language until the 1960s. Prior to this, it was considered a broken, limited form of the English language.

    Sign Language is actually one of the quickest ways for children to learn how to communicate as well. Picking up on motions and symbols is a much easier thing for children to do than make sounds. By learning sign language first, some children have an easier time learning to verbally speak. The children will have an image or sign already in their mind to match the word.[6]

    This page titled 4.3: Sign Languages is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Wikibooks - Cultural Anthropology (Wikibooks) .

    • Was this article helpful?