Sign Language Around the World

Sign Language Around the World

Outside of the deaf and hard of hearing community, few people realize just how many types of sign language exist around the world. While the exact number of unique sign languages remains unknown, there are hundreds of distinct languages used by deaf and hard of hearing individuals the world over.

There are far more types of sign language than we could ever include in a single blog post, but read on to learn about some of the most common types of sign language in the world today. 


American Sign Language

American Sign Language (ASL) is a visual language that is largely popular within the United States. It makes use of hand signs as well as head movements, facial expressions and body language to convey messages. Though some people mistakenly believe it to be directly translatable to English, it is not. 

Pidgin Signed English

A language that is derived from one or more language is often referred to as a pidgin. Pidgin Signed English (PSE), as you might imagine, is a combination of American English and American Sign Language. This variation of ASL is most often spoken by people who are culturally deafand use spoken English as their primary language. 

Signing Exact English

Signing Exact English (SEE), sometimes referred to as “Signed Exact English” is a branch of sign language that translates directly into English and includes word endings, such as “ed” and “ing,” which are not found in either PSE or ASL.

British Sign Language

British Sign Language (BSL) was established in the UK in the late 1700s or early 1800s. It has been widely influential — spreading to Australia and New Zealand — and has largely influenced Auslan, which is Australia’s sign language, as well as New Zealand Sign Language. These languages are so similar that some chose to classify them separate dialects of the same language called British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZL). 

French Sign Language

French Sign Language (LSF) is the most common sign language spoken in France. Notably, it is one of the earliest forms of sign language—having influenced other languages including American Sign Language, Irish Sign Language (ISL) and Russian Sign Language (RSL). French priest Charles-Michel de l’Epeeis widely credited with inventing LSF. 

Irish Sign Language

Irish Sign Language is a derivative of French Sign Language that contains influences from British Sign Language. Interestingly, Irish education has a tradition of educating students separately by gender, with one third of Ireland’s post-primary schools being single-sex. Because of this, Irish Sign Language used to have two distinct dialects for men and women. This distinction has faded over time. 

With hundreds of different sign languages originating from all around the world, it’s clear that sign language has a storied past and a bright future. While there are more sign languages around the world than we are able to list here, it’s important to note that no two languages are identical. No single sign language is universal and, just because two people speak sign language, doesn’t mean they speak the same type of sign language.

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