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Sign Languages Around the World

One misconception that some people who are not familiar with the Deaf community have about sign language is that it is universal, or in other words, that there is only one signed language that is used by all Deaf signers all over the world. While the notion of a universally used language may sound intriguing, it is just as unlikely that all Deaf people would just happen to use the same sign language as it would be unlikely for all hearing people of all geographic regions and backgrounds to just happen to use the same spoken language. Just as hearing people develop and learn spoken and written languages local to their own region and culture, so too do Deaf people develop and learn sign languages that vary from one nation to another.

There are, in fact, many different sign languages around the world. Ethnologue, an encyclopedia that catalogues what it calls the world's 6909 living languages, lists 138 sign languages used by Deaf communities. Gallaudet University puts the figure at 271 sign languages worldwide. There are various Internet sites that list scores and hundreds of different sign languages.

One of the most widely used sign languages in the world, American Sign Language, or ASL, is signed in about 40 different countries according to Wikipedia in places as diverse as Belize, The Congo, Canada, Malaysia, Panama, and the Philippines and is one of the most used languages in the United States according the Gallaudet University Library. A few of the other more well known sign languages from around the world include:

  • Auslan: Australian Sign Language; Auslan is similar to BSL but is very different from ASL
  • BSL: British Sign Language
  • Chinese Sign Language
  • Irish Sign Language
  • JSL: Japanese Sign Language; called Shuwa in the spoken Japanese language, shu meaning "hand" and wa meaning "language"
  • LSF: Langues des Signes Francais (French Sign Language)
  • Spanish Sign Language

The idea that all sign languages are the same language may have arisen from the creation of Gestuno. Just like Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof invented the language, Esperanto, in an attempt to create a universally spoken language, Gestuno is an invented sign language. A committee of the World Federation of the Deaf invented Gestuno in 1973 in an attempt to create a universal sign language. The name refers to the English word "gesture" and the Spanish word for "one". One could argue that one reason why such invented languages have historically failed to catch on is because there is no population that already uses these concocted forms of communication as their native language. Although Gestuno is only used at a few international gatherings, the myth that all sign language is universal has risen, even though there are many different sign languages around the world.

Read more about ASL

According to Ethnologue, other sign languages include:

Adamorobe Sign Language
Afghan Sign Language
Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language
Albanian Sign Language
Algerian Sign Language
American Sign Language
Argentine Sign Language
Armenian Sign Language
Australian Aborigines Sign Language
Australian Sign Language
Austrian Sign Language
Bamako Sign Language
Ban Khor Sign Language
Bengkala Sign Language
Bolivian Sign Language
Brazilian Sign Language
British Sign Language
Bulgarian Sign Language
Catalan Sign Language
Chadian Sign Language
Chiangmai Sign Language
Chilean Sign Language
Chinese Sign Language
Colombian Sign Language
Costa Rican Sign Language
Croatia Sign Language
Cuba Sign Language
Czech Sign Language
Danish Sign Language
Dominican Sign Language
Ecuadorian Sign Language
Egyptian Sign Language
Estonian Sign Language
Ethiopian Sign Language
Finland-Swedish Sign Language
Finnish Sign Language
Flemish Sign Language
French Belgian Sign Language
French Sign Language
German Sign Language
Ghanaian Sign Language
Ghandruk Sign Language
Greek Sign Language
Guatemalan Sign Language
Guinean Sign Language
Haiphong Sign Language
Hanoi Sign Language
Hausa Sign Language
Hawaii Sign Language
Ho Chi Minh City Sign Language
Honduras Sign Language
Hong Kong Sign Language
Hungarian Sign Language
Icelandic Sign Language
Indian Sign Language
Indonesian Sign Language
International Sign (a language of Italy)
Inuit Sign Language
Irish Sign Language
Israeli Sign Language
Italian Sign Language
Jamaican Country Sign Language
Jamaican Sign Language
Japanese Sign Language
Jhankot Sign Language
Jordanian Sign Language
Jumla Sign Language
Kaapor Sign Language
Kenyan Sign Language
Korean Sign Language
Laos Sign Language
Latvian Sign Language
Libyan Sign Language
Lithuanian Sign Language
Lyons Sign Language
Madagascar Sign Language
Malaysian Sign Language
Maltese Sign Language
Maritime Sign Language
Mauritian Sign Language
Mexican Sign Language
Moldova Sign Language
Mongolian Sign Language
Moroccan Sign Language
Mozambican Sign Language
Namibian Sign Language
Nepalese Sign Language
New Zealand Sign Language
Nicaraguan Sign Language
Nigerian Sign Language
Norwegian Sign Language
Pakistan Sign Language
Panamanian Sign Language
Paraguayan Sign Language
Penang Sign Language
Persian Sign Language
Peruvian Sign Language
Philippine Sign Language
Plains Indian Sign Language
Polish Sign Language
Portuguese Sign Language
Providencia Sign Language
Puerto Rican Sign Language
Quebec Sign Language
Rennellese Sign Language
Romanian Sign Language
Russian Sign Language
Salvadoran Sign Language
Saudi Arabian Sign Language
Selangor Sign Language
Sierra Leone Sign Language
Sign Language of the Netherlands
Singapore Sign Language
Slovakian Sign Language
South African Sign Language
Spanish Sign Language
Sri Lankan Sign Language
Swedish Sign Language
Swiss-French Sign Language
Swiss-German Sign Language
Swiss-Italian Sign Language
Taiwan Sign Language
Tanzanian Sign Language
Tebul Sign Language
Thai Sign Language
Trinidad and Tobago Sign Language
Tunisian Sign Language
Turkish Sign Language
Ugandan Sign Language
Ukrainian Sign Language
Uruguayan Sign Language
Valencian Sign Language
Venezuelan Sign Language
Yolngu Sign Language
Yucatec Maya Sign Language
Yugoslavian Sign Language
Zambian Sign Language
Zimbabwe Sign Language

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