All you need to know about sign language (in a nutshell)


Illustration with several hands showing the alphabet in sign language, and people showing some comons sentences like 'hello' or 'thank you' in sign language.

1 Different languages, different signs

Just like spoken language, sign language is highly variable. It exists in many closely related forms – comparable to the differences between American and British English, Peninsular and Latin American Spanish, or Dutch and Flemish – and research has shown that even within a single linguistic region, variation is fairly common. Each country – or linguistic region in countries where there is more than one official language – has a standardized variety of its own. Most national deaf and/or sign language associations are listed on the website of the European Union of the Deaf.


2 Is there such a thing as a sign ‘lingua franca’?

According to the European Union of the Deaf (EUD), attempts to create an international sign language date back to 1924. Over the past few decades, the growth in travel by deaf people and their inclusion in all kinds of international conferences has further increased the need for a lingua franca. International Signs (IS) serves as an auxiliary sign language where meaning has to be negotiated between signers. They communicate using a set of mixed signs, with elements from their own national sign languages combined with iconic signs that can be understood by a large audience. Want to know more? Then take a look at this explanatory video put together by the European Union of the Deaf.


3 Deaf readers and book lovers

Readers with listening disabilities can often be overlooked. If possible, try to meet their needs by providing a sign-language interpreter for your literary event or programme. Make that information known in advance to your target audience, so that you reach as many lovers of literature as possible.


Looking for more?

Looking for information focused on specific language regions or countries? Check out these organizations that can further introduce you to specific sign languages:

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