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The Evolution of Sign Language

I wrote this article as many people have emailed me asking what the difference is between Auslan and ASL.

By writing Australian Baby Hands I hoped to help parents bridge the communication gap with their baby and spread the word about Auslan and what a wonderful language it is.

When people think of sign language, they think of a language, which Deaf or Hard of Hearing people use to communicate. A lot of people assume that sign language is one universal language used in all countries of the world. This is in fact not the case.

As with any other language, sign languages are different throughout the world. There are two basic sign languages that many local sign languages descend from: French Sign Language (LSF) and British Sign Language (BSL).

Australian Sign Language (Auslan) originates from British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL). As with any language, Auslan is always evolving with the emergence of new words. Thirty years ago, the sign for email did not exist, as there was no such thing as email then. The changes in Auslan are also related to the influence of different social groups, cultures and regional dialects. There are regional differences in Auslan. The vocabulary of these regions can differ quite a lot even down to common concepts such as colours and animals. In more recent times, Auslan has begun to borrow signs from American Sign Language (ASL).

One major difference between Auslan and ASL is that the Auslan alphabet is based on the BSL two-handed alphabet whereas the ASL alphabet is a one handed system.

American Sign Language (ASL) like Irish Sign Language (ISL) originates from French Sign Language (LSF). As their alphabet is based on a one handed signing system, it is quite different to the two handed system of Auslan. ASL has different dialects and signs can vary from city to city.

Efforts were made in the 1950’s to create one universal sign language. International Sign Language (IS/ISL or Gestuno) was discussed at the First World Deaf Congress in 1951 and as a result Gestuno was born. Gestuno is Italian and means “the unity of sign languages” but the language has become more commonly known as IS. This language was developed to be used at International events such as the World Federation for the Deaf. The dominant influence of IS are American and European sign languages.

As you can see, there is not one universal language that all Deaf and Hard of Hearing people use around the world. Auslan and ASL come from two different sign language backgrounds and as a result, the language has evolved to be quite different.

When considering introducing baby sign language into your home by using Auslan with your baby, you are using the established Sign Language system of Australia.

Remember; always have fun when doing baby sign 🙂

Happy Signing

Jackie

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Article written by Jackie Durnin:
Jackie Durnin, Author of Australian Baby Hands shares her knowledge on baby sign language at http://www.australianbabyhands.com . Visit to read articles on baby sign language and find out about baby sign language classes .