Date: Mon Oct 4, 1999 6:50
SignWriting List Forum
Subject: Questions & Answers
October 4, 1999
Dear SignWriting List:
I oftentimes get questions related to deafness and signed languages, that
are not questions about SignWriting really.... I do my best to answer
them... Here are two questions I just received from two different people. I
thought I would share my answers with you. If you have anything to add, I
would love your feedback...
Question: Do you have documented information on how many sign languages
exist throughout the world?
No. I don't believe anyone really knows how many spoken or signed languages
there are in the world. But I suspect there are as many signed languages in
the world, as there are spoken languages in the world. Just like spoken
languages, signed languages are unique to each region in the world too.
Signed languages are as old as history. They are not new languages recently
invented. Like spoken languages, they developed naturally. Deaf people
needed to communicate with those around them. Certain gestures became
commonly understood, and in time, as with spoken languages, a rich
vocabulary and grammar structure developed. Like spoken languages, signed
languages are living languages. They change as the people who use them
Of course, some signed languages are more "established" and "better
researched" than others. American Sign Language is an example of an
"established and well known signed language"...but there are many dialects
of American Sign Language, just as there are many dialects of English....
And then in our global world, a few languages become dominent - like
English, Spanish, American Sign Language...there are a few that are used
more when people travel, on computers, and in publications such as ours.
And SignWriting can write all signed languages....
Question: Is Sign Language international?
No. It is not. There is a different signed language in every country. In
fact, some countries have several signed languages. Some signed languages
have several "dialects". Why? The best answer to that question, is with
another question. "Why isn't there an international spoken language?"
People did try to invent an international spoken language, called
Esperanto. But few speak Esperanto. The naturally evolved spoken languages
are used, but not the invented ones. Signed languages are no different.
People tried to invent an international signed language, called Gestuno.
But even though the attempt was admirable, no one really signs Gestuno. The
naturally evolved signed languages "won".
American Sign Language (ASL) is used in the USA and in English-speaking
Canada. There are many dialects of ASL. Because of Gallaudet University in
Washington D.C, and other fine schools for the Deaf, most ASL dialects are
understood by Deaf people all over the country. ASL is remarkably
standardized, considering the size of the USA and Canada, and considering
that up until now, there was no written form for the language. It is
possible that SignWriting will help to preserve ASL, and will contribute to
Deaf Action Committee For SignWriting
Box 517, La Jolla, CA, 92038-0517, USA