Sign Language: Discover the World of Silent Communication - LanguageBard

Understanding Sign Language: A Silent Yet Profound Mode of Communication

Sign language is a comprehensive language involving signs made by hand movements, eye gaze, body language, and facial expressions. As it's an integral part of deaf culture, sign language plays a vital role in ensuring effective communication for the hearing impaired. This article aims to provide a guide into the magical world of sign language.

What is Sign Language?

Sign language is a fully-fledged, natural language with its syntax, grammar, and semantics. Different from simply conveying spoken language visually, it's independent with unique structures which may not follow the spoken form of the language.

History of Sign Language

Sign language surprisingly has an extensive history tracing back to the 5th Century BC, mentioned in ancient Greek writings of Socrates and Plato. It’s developed naturally over the centuries among deaf communities. The first sign language school was established in 1760 in Paris by Abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée, making French Sign Language (LSF) one of the oldest and most traditional sign languages in the world.

Different Types of Sign Language

Contrary to the common belief that sign language is universally the same, there are about 300 different sign languages worldwide, which include:

  • American Sign Language (ASL): Originating from the French Sign language and brought to the US in 1817, ASL is now the third most widely used language in the US.

  • British Sign Language (BSL): Developed naturally in Britain, BSL has its structure and syntax, distinct from the British English language.

  • International Sign (IS): An artificially devised sign language system for international events and conferences, designed to make it possible for signers of different native sign languages to communicate.

How Does Sign Language Differ Across Countries?

Although sign language has developed a universal version for international contexts (International Sign), it primarily varies from country to country, and even region to region within countries. The diversity results from distinct cultures and factors including education systems, regional dialects, and historical events. For instance, British Sign Language and American Sign Language are quite different despite both countries speaking English, due to different historical influences.

How Complex is Sign Language?

Sign language is not just a visual representation of spoken language but has its complexity. It has a fully developed grammatical structure—using hand shapes, locations, movements, palm orientations, and facial expressions. Grammar and vocabulary in sign language do not necessarily align with the syntax of corresponding spoken languages.

How Can One Learn Sign Language?

With the advancement of technology, learning sign language has become much more accessible. There are numerous online resources, free courses, mobile apps, books, and DVDs. Taking an in-person class can also be beneficial, especially for beginners, as it offers opportunities for practice and feedback.

Is Sign Language Beneficial for Hearing People Too?

Sign language isn't just for people with hearing disability. It can be a practical communication tool in noisy environments or instances where silence is mandatory. Furthermore, learning sign language can broaden one's perspective, improve spatial awareness, develop non-verbal communication skills and increase cultural awareness.

How is Sign Language Used in Entertainment and Media?

Sign language has been increasingly embraced in media and entertainment. Television, films, and theatre use sign language for inclusive storytelling, allowing deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers to enjoy the content. An example is the Oscar-winning film "The Shape of Water," which showcases American Sign Language.


Whether you're considering learning sign language for personal or professional reasons, you'll be delving into a rich cultural heritage and mode of communication. The journey to understanding this silent yet profound language can be challenging but ultimately rewarding, opening up a new world of possibilities and connections.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Does every country have its sign language? Not every country has its specific sign language. Some countries use international or regional sign languages. However, there are about 300 different sign languages globally.

2. Can hearing people learn sign language? Absolutely. Hearing people can benefit from learning sign language, and it can also raise awareness about the deaf community's culture and experiences.

3. How long does it take to learn sign language? It varies from person to person. Some may become fluent in a year or two of consistent practice, while others may take longer.

4. Is sign language universal? No. There is a universal variant known as International Sign (IS), but actual use varies. Sign languages are diverse, reflecting the cultures and histories of different communities.

5. Can I learn sign language online? Yes. There are many excellent online resources, including courses and video tutorials, that make learning sign language accessible for everyone.

Sign Language Lesson 1: Introductions