How many people use sign language?
Sign languages are primarily used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing. Many other people learn sign language in order to be able to communicate easily with family members or friends that are deaf or hard of hearing. Sign languages may also be learned in order to be an official sign language interpreter.
What writing system(s) does this language use?
Sign languages are not written as often as other languages, instead written forms of other languages are used. For example, someone that communicates using American Sign Language would usually read and write written English since that is the dominant language around them. Many sign languages do however, have their own specific written form.
There is a notation that can be used to write out how signs are made in most any sign language. It was invented a few years ago by a linguist who makes constructed languages (David J. Peterson), on the theory that part of the reason people haven't invented more constructed signed languages is that they haven't had a way to write how to make the signs. It's called SLIPA, Sign Language IPA, after the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) which is used to write how to pronounce words in spoken languages.
What is the history of sign language?
Many groups of deaf people have used sign languages throughout history. It is part of human communication.
Are sign languages really languages?
Yes! Sign languages have all of the important features that other languages have that make them languages. For example, they have their own grammar, phonemes, and use of inflection. Someone signing a language uses the same parts of the brain as someone speaking it — sign languages have all of the same basic pieces as spoken languages but they are expressed differently.
Is sign language universal?
Sometimes when communicating with somebody who doesn't speak the same language as you, you can get your point across by acting things out and making signs with your hands. Does this mean that sign language is universal? Not quite. Just as there are many spoken languages, there are many signed languages (for example, American Sign Language and French Sign Language). Interestingly, signed languages have a different history than spoken ones. For example, American Sign Language is much closer to French Sign Language than it is to British Sign Language!
Also, since sign languages tend to mix a lot of miming and acting along with the actual language, deaf people often have an easier time making themselves understood with other deaf people, even if they don't "speak" the same language. This also helps them to learn each other's languages. So deaf people might have an easier time communicating across the language barrier even if their respective languages are very different.
Where are sign languages used?
Sign languages are used all over the world. There are many official sign languages that have significant numbers of speakers. Even where official sign languages are not known (and even where they are), "home sign" develops where speakers communicate with signs that make sense between the speakers.
How much does sign language differ from spoken language?
What makes sign languages interesting is that they are often very different from spoken languages, even in the same countries or communities. For example, in American English, we might say, "When are you going to school?", whereas in French Sign Language, we would instead sign something like "When you school go when?"
Learning a sign language is really like learning a second language, not just learning signs for the words you already know. In the same way, translating a sign language to a spoken language involves accounting for grammar differences in much the same way that translating from one spoken language to another does.
Clayton Valli (1951–2003) was a prominent deaf linguist and American Sign Language (ASL) poet whose work helped further to legitimize ASL and introduce people to the richness of American Sign Language literature.
What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?
What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?
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