|SignWriting List Forum|
Steve/Dianne Parkhurst |
Date: Mon Oct 18, 1999 5:19 pm
Subject: number of spoken and SLs
We have been busy lately and haven't had time to answer e-mails. Well, we
are at a brief lull in our schedule and so I thought I would reply to a
message Valerie sent a while back about the number of SLs and spoken
languages in the world. Valerie wrote:
>>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.>>
Actually we are getting closer to knowing exactly how many spoken languages
there are in the world. Every couple years a new addition of the Ethnologue
comes out with a list of languages. And although new languages are added to
the list every year, the number of new languages is getting smaller and
smaller. The 13th edition of the Ethnologue lists 6,703 living languages.
Of those languages, 103 are sign languages.
Of course spoken languages have been rigorously studied and researched for
for many years, whereas SL research is just now beginning to take off. I
really expect there to be quite a few more than just 100 SLs in the world.
But at the same time I doubt that there are anywhere near 1000 let alone
One very common misunderstanding is that there is a consistent link between
the spoken language and the signed language. We work in Spain and we
constantly get requests from people in the States who would like to know
about "Spanish SL" so that they could communicate with people in Mexico or
Puerto Rico. Sorry, it doesn't work that way. The SL here in Madrid, Spain
is totally different than ASL and Mexican SL.
Let me give you an example: In the US there are 175 living spoken languages
(mostly Native American languages) yet there is only one SL. And although
there may be regional differences, there is an amazing amount of
uniformity. I've seen more difference between alumni of two different Deaf
schools here in Madrid than between the ASL in Seattle and NC (that's my
impression, not an established fact). Anyway, let me continue: In the
Philippines there are 168 living languages, yet the SL there is a dialect
of ASL. So, you see there is not a one-to-one correspondence between SL and
spoken language. (This holds true in lots of other countries too.)
So, I would have to say that it is inaccurate to say that there are "as
many signed languages in the world, as there are spoken languages in the
world." But I do think it is fair to say that there are at least 100 sign
languages and likely many more than that.
Well, I'll hush now.