A Signed Language?
by Earl Duncan III
In our world, we have various mediums of communication with language being at the forefront of how we interact daily. Many of us rely on speech with changes in tone and influx to convey our moods, thoughts, and emotions. For some, access to these subtleties in a spoken language cannot be accessed due to their own limitations. Luckily as we have evolved, people have adapted ways to express their feelings visually with the development of signed languages. Signed Languages share similarities with other languages having vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure but are shown visually through hand gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. Although not universal, many signed languages carry similar structures but there is variation within regions and countries.
American Sign Language
Stemming closely from French Sign Language since its inception, American Sign Language is used and studied widely across the United States. American Sign Language (ASL for short), developed from a mixture of local signs in America and the structure of French Sign Language (LSF) to create a rich diversity that makes ASL a special and unique language. While ASL borrowed numerous signs and grammar from LSF, each continue to thrive as separate languages with different colors and textures that give them individual personalities.
British Sign Language
A significant impact on the deaf community around the world was the Second International Congress of Education of the Deaf held in Milan, Italy in 1880. The conference discussed foundations of how people who were deaf and hard of hearing would be taught. Sign Language was phased out of schools and oral methods of speech and lip reading became the preferred ways to teach the deaf. Despite attempts to stop the deaf from signing, it remains the primary way that deaf people continue to communicate. British Sign Language (BSL) was granted recognition eleven years ago as an officially recognized language in Britain. A major difference between speakers of ASL and BSL pertains to the structure of their finger-spelled alphabets. ASL utilizes a one handed alphabet system whereas BSL uses a two handed one. This differentiation creates a major contrast between both languages showing how a visual language can take on various forms.
Japanese Sign Language
From Western culture to the remote regions of the Far East, Sign Languages continue to thrive and are used on a more frequent basis. Japanese Sign Language, known as JSL, exists in multiple dialects around the country having differences from the North to the South. The first known school for the deaf was founded in the city of Kyoto in 1878 which approximates the starting point for the origins of present-day JSL. A distinguishable quality that JSL possesses are similarities with actual spoken Japanese more so than ASL shares with the English language. This relationship directly impacts how signs are conveyed in JSL with added emphasis on mouthing Japanese characters to help with sign differentiation. This subtlety is not as pronounced with signers of ASL and BSL which focus on facial expressions and gestures to convey thoughts.
*Sign Language Around the World
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