Types of Sign Language

There are many types of sign language. Just las vocal language comes in many different langauges and dialects, sign language too comes in different langauges, dialects, and even versions of dialects.

Blueprint Sign Language

Album cover for Blueprint's album Sign Language. Image and a review of the album via Culture Bully.

First, the basics. Sign language uses visually transmitted sign patterns to convey meaning by simultaneously combining shape, orientation and movement of the hands, arms or body, and facial expressions. This is important as a sign not only conveys a word but also conveys a tone, both contextually and acoustically. For example, if you were to say a word emphatically, there are many things going on here the audibly convey a particular message. Your emphasis on the word, whether it be delivered by using a higher or lower pitch, the volume, and even tones such as sarcasm or gaiety are all being conveyed simultaneously by the interpreter with use of the sign, body movement, and facial expression. That’s a lot of visual information being received that we often as hearing individuals take for granted that our brain simply process.

In linguistic terms, sign languages are as complex and anthropologically diverse as oral, or acoustic, language. Professional linguists have studied many sign languages and found them to have every linguistic component required to be classed as a langauge. One of the major components to Deaf being a deaf culture is the complexity of its language.

Along with classified sign languages, sign systems are also sometimes developed within a single family. These terms are usually used in conversation only with other family members and friends who are familiar with the signs. They are informal systems of signing and are usually referred to as home sign or kitchen sign. While these informal systems are a bit more complex with families who rely on this system to communicate personally with one another, we have all created mini-versions of homesign within our own families. For example, that singular shaped hand gesture your baby does that only you and your family knows what the baby means (such as asking for a particular cup, or expressing wanting their bottle, or even a gesture they make when identifying a familiar sound)…yep…that’s home sign. This example is not to belittle sign systems, rather, it is to demonstrate just how intrinsic the use of gestures and hand movements are even to the hearing world.

While there are specific, classified types of Sign Language that make up the general base to signing systems, dialects are also created, oftentimes creating a version of the base sign system that is unique and prevailing amongst the deaf community of a local community. Famous examples of this include Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language in the USA, Kata Kolok in a village in Bali, Adamorobe Sign Language in Ghana and Yucatec Maya sign language in Mexico.

In this post, only the signs most prevalently to be encountered in the our campus will be discussed, but you can visit this article at disabled-world.com for a complete list types of Sign Language.



Types of Sign Language:

American Sign Language Fingerspelled Alphabet

American Sign Language (ASL) Fingerspelled Alphabet. Image via Google search.

American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a complete, complex language that employs signs made with the hands and other movements, including facial expressions and postures of the body. It is the first language of many deaf in North America, and is considered the dominant sign language of the Deaf community in the United States, in the English-speaking parts of Canada, and in parts of Mexico. ASL is said to be the fourth most commonly used language in the U.S.

British Sign Language

British Sign Language (BSL) Fingerspelled Alphabet. Image via Google search.

British Sign Language (BSL). Though the United Kingdon and the United States both share English as a spoken and written language, British Sign and American Sign languages are quite different from one another and are not mutually intelligible. British Sign Language (BSL) makes use of space and involves movements of the hands, body, face, and head.

Signed English (SE). This system is preferred among primary and higher education institutions as it has one sign to represent each word in the English language. It is intended to be used to help with reading and writing, and has important signs to teach grammar.

Sign Supported English (SSE). This is the preferred method of hearing people to communicate with the deaf. SSE uses the same sign as British Sign Language (BSL), but unlike Signed English (SE), you do not have to sign every word. SSE also doesn’t have its own grammar system like BSL, enabling hearing people to use the sign system without having to learn a whole new grammatical structure. SSE can be picked up fairly quickly which expedites communication.

International Sign (IS). You may not come in contact with this system much here on our campus — yet, that is; we are growing — but IS is an international auxillary language used at international meetings, such as the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Congress and events such as the Deaflympics.

Padget Gorman Signed Speech. This signing system is used with speech to help those with langauge difficulties. There are 37 basic signs which when combined can make over 4,000 more complex ones.

Pidgin Signed English (PSE). Another characterstic of language, like vocal language, sign language has a very crude signing system, in which elements of BSL and spoken English are combined to allow communication between hearing people and deaf people who only know the strict confines of sign language. This system is not recommended (the persnickety of proper grammar should cover both ears and eyes for this system).

And finally…

Finger Spelling. This signing system is generally used alongside sign language. It is used to spell out names, places, and anything else where there is not usually a sign for. Many times, new words take longer to be adapted into a singular sign, therefore they must be spelled out.

15 comments so far

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  8. jasmin on

    where can u get a sign language book?

    • DSS of GCSC on

      Hi Jasmine! You can purchase sign language books in any book store. Or, if you’re more of an online shopper, there are plethora of books you can purchase on sites like Amazon.com or book companies, such as Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, or whomever are the brick and mortar stores in your country.

      However, most in the deaf community agree that immersion is the best method of learning. This is so for many reasons. First, with immersion you have someone (or a whole bunch of someones) who you can converse with using your new language skills; after all, the saying goes “you lose it if you don’t use it.” Well, it works the same for learning, you don’t really learn how to speak a language if you don’t regularly use it. Second, as with any language, sign language has a variety of dialects that vary from country to country, region to region, and even community to community. I can recount a funny story that happened to one of my coworkers while she was at an American Sign Language conference in the Midwest. She was attending an ice cream social that had been planned as an activity for the conference event. There weren’t very many interpreters who were from the southern states of the U.S., like herself. When she approached the ice cream counter to place her order, she had used sign language to ask for her flavor of ice cream to be place in an ice cream cone–only, the commonly used sign for cone in our region (fist closed) meant something very explicit in the Midwest region (where cone is commonly signed with an open fist). Everyone got a good giggle, but it just goes to show that just like spoken languages where we use forms of slang or particular phrases that are specific to our culture, the same goes for sign language. Through immersion you learn not only the dialect of the language but also the culture of the deaf/hard of hearing community. This same reason coincides with reason three of why you should learn through immersion–books can teach you the basic symbols and even the grammar associated with sign language, but it requires regular use and an understanding of conversational use that provides you with a more accurate understanding of the language.

      The list can go on and on why most advocate immersion when learning sign language. The best way to find a mentor or to locate your local deaf/hard of hearing community is to contact your local or regional deaf center, sign language student-interpreting program, deaf club, or even Deaf Coffee – any of these could have more contacts/resources/help for you to learn.

  9. pheobe louise lock on

    this site has really helped me because i have 2 friends who are deaf and i can’t communicate with them much.THANK YOU.

  10. pheobe louise lock on

    i love this website.i learnt the english sign language
    THANK U

  11. Sapan jain on

    Hello, I am Indian. I am Deaf. I love Indian Sign Language…..

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    • DSS of GCSC on

      Thank you! We did not hire out a developer. We are using one of the many great themes available through WordPress. All our content is written by one of our staff, a recent graduate of Florida State University in Communication.

  13. […] attention to your business—no matter what! These signs need an electrical outlet to be able to function properly, so they need to be placed strategically in order for them to be useful. Though these types of […]


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