Thirteen years ago as an agency it was very rare to get bookings other than BSL. Now already in 2014 we have had requests for over 20 different sign languages. This is of a range and diversity that now reflects the inhabitants of our country and the welcome that we give to non-English speakers.
In total, there are over two hundred sign languages in use around the world today. The number is not known with any confidence as new sign languages rapidly emerge through creolization. In some countries, such as Sri Lanka, each school for the deaf may have a separate language, known only to its students. At the other extreme countries may share sign languages, though sometimes under different names. For example, Croatian and Serbian are the same languages as are Indian and Pakistani. Deaf sign languages also arise outside of educational institutions, especially in village communities with high levels of congenital deafness, but there are significant sign languages developed for the hearing as well, such as the speech-taboo languages used in aboriginal Australia.
In brief, there are three categories of sign languages. Firstly there are Deaf sign languages, which are the preferred languages of Deaf communities around the world including village sign languages that are shared with the hearing community and then Deaf-community sign languages that are shared much less. In addition to the 200+ sign languages around the world, there are also historically dead sign languages such as Old French Sign Language and Old Kent Sign Language. The last deaf person born into Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language tradition, Katie West, died in 1952.
Secondly there are Auxiliary sign languages, which are not native languages, but are signed language systems of varying complexity, used in addition to oral languages. Simple gestures are not included, as they do not constitute language. These include; Baby Sign – using signs to assist early language development in young children, International Sign (previously known as Gestuno), Makaton – a system of signed communication used by and with people who have speech, language or learning difficulties and even Tic tac – our traditional British system of communicating betting odds at racecourses.
Thirdly, there are signed modes of oral languages, also known as manually coded languages, which are bridges between sign and oral languages. They include Cued Speech – a hand/mouth system (HMS) to render oral language phonemes visually intelligible, fingerspelling – alphabetic signs to represent the written form of an oral language and speech taboo languages such as Australian Aboriginal Sign Language.
If you would like to talk to us further about our specialist language services, have sign language skills other than BSL or are a BSL interpreter fluent in a second language, we would love to hear from you. Feel free to contact us here.