Sign Language in Other Cultures

Ever since ancient times, whenever there have been a few deaf people gathered, it is natural, even intuitive, for them to develop some form of sign language. However, just like other languages, dialects, meanings, and gestures in sign language vary from one region to another. In the western world, French Sign Language was one of the first to gain prominence. Later, a similar version was modified into American Sign Language, or ASL. Today, there are several different sign languages that are used around the world. They are advanced enough to have their own grammar, syntax, and signing rules.

Since ASL is one of the most commonly known forms of communication for the deaf, many people incorrectly assume that it is a universal language. The truth is quite far from this. Think of all the countries where English is the native language. This would include England, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Although hearing people from these countries all speak English, they speak different forms of the language, with different accents. Similarly, deaf people also use different sign languages to communicate. A deaf person travelling to a foreign country would not necessarily understand the sign language used there. Apart from gestures and signals being different, it is also the grammar and structure of the language that would vary. It is important to note that sign language does not use the same grammatical structures as written language. Be careful when signing since some signs or gestures can be interpreted as vulgar or offensive when translated into a different language. There are also some languages, such as Japanese Sign Language, that may incorporate a lot more mouthing of words compared to ASL.

Deaf children in foreign countries are taught how to learn sign language from a young age. This enables them to acquire the language very naturally, as other hearing children quickly learn their local language. Learning a sign language alphabet is one way for deaf adults to start when travelling to a foreign country. While signing, the sign language alphabet can be used for fingerspelling, especially in regards to names or ideas that do not already have a dedicated sign. There are a number of online sites that offer free courses on how to learn sign language. These are often excellent resources, and they often include a sign language dictionary as well. A sign language dictionary usually contains a listing of words with corresponding images of signing gestures, or video demonstrations. Even those who are fluent in ASL can benefit from taking a course on how to learn sign language before traveling abroad. Keeping a sign language dictionary handy helps tremendously in translating and learning new vocabulary. Most developed countries do legally recognize native sign language, but there are still some languages that are not officially acknowledged. There is also an International Sign Language that was previously named Gestuno. It is used at international conferences and events when deaf people from around the world gather in one place and need to communicate with each other. It combines parts of various other languages and also has its own sign language alphabet.