Sign language is a way of communicating without speaking. It is usually used by people who are unable to speak or hear, but also by people who can hear to communicate with deaf people. Sign language is made up of an organized system of gestures, mimes and facial movements. Just like spoken languages, there are many different sign languages throughout the world.
VARIETIES OF SIGN LANGUAGE
The sign languages used in different countries are different from each other, just as spoken languages are. In Britain, British Sign Language (BSL) is used. Some other sign languages are Irish Sign Language, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), Australian Sign Language (AUSLAN) and South African Sign Language. These sign languages all developed from BSL and so are similar to it.
French Sign Language (FSL) was the first sign language for deaf people to be recognized in the West. In the United States, American Sign Language (ASL) is used. This has some similarities to FSL because a Frenchman called Laurent Clerc was the first person to teach signing for deaf people to Americans. Clerc was invited to go to the United States by a man called Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, and together they set up a school to teach deaf children. ASL is very different to BSL. It is also very different to the spoken English language and is in no way a copy of this.
Sri Lankan Sign Language, Pakistan Sign Language, and Indian Sign Language are used in their respective countries. In Malaysia, Malaysian Sign Language is an exact copy of the Malay language, but with signs. This is unlike most other sign languages.
In North America, there is a sign language used by Native American peoples. This sign language is used by people who can speak and hear to communicate across different languages. This means that even if they do not speak the same language, they can understand each other using signs. The Native Americans use manual signs to represent things in nature, ideas, emotions, and sensations. The sensation of cold is represented by a shivering motion using the hands in front of the body. This sign also means “winter”.
Aborigines in Australia also have a sign language that is used not only by the deaf but also by people who can hear to communicate across different languages. It is called Australian Aborigines Sign Language. Some Aborigines use it when they are mourning the death of someone and prefer to remain silent, or when hunting animals.
FEATURES OF SIGN LANGUAGE
Signs are made using one or both hands. The hands make specific shapes and movements. Gestures are not the only way of communicating using sign language. Facial expressions such as moving the lips and eyebrows are important, as is another body language. These movements help to give meaning and expression to sign language, just as a speaking person would use the tone of their voice.
There are two main types of signing. The first type is with natural signs. This type of sign stands for an idea or an object, for example drawing a hat on your head with your fingers to mean “hat”. The other type of sign is called methodical or systematic. Methodical signs represent exact words or letters from a written language. In fact, most sign languages have an alphabet of signs to represent each individual written letter.
Each sign language has its own grammar. Grammar is indicated using the space around the body, and with the direction of the hand movements. Facial expressions and body movement also make up the grammar of sign language.
SIGN LANGUAGE AND ANIMALS
Although animals cannot talk, they may be able to use language. To find out if they are capable of communicating using language, experiments with chimpanzees were carried out. Chimpanzees were taught hundreds of symbols and they were able to remember them and seemed to be able to use them for basic communication. This may show that animals other than humans have the ability to use language.