Is Sign Language universal?

Published 6th April 2016
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I’ve heard that people study American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL), and I wonder how many there are in total. Actually, I thought it was a universal language, but some people even say that they are fluent in multiple sign languages.

Apparently, just as each country has its own language; it has its own sign language too. It is limited to geographical areas. However, there are some exceptions. South Africa is a clear example. While South Africa has many official spoken languages, there are only two sign languages. On the other hand, in South America, the primary spoken language is Spanish, but each country has its own sign language.

So, is it hard for deaf people to travel and communicate with each other? I would imagine it’s the same as a Spanish native speaker going to China or Russia. Well, it wouldn’t be as bad as my example. For sure, they would be able to communicate but this would be limited.

Each sign language differs from another; the physical sign, the way you put your hands, the way you show the action. Also, there would be similar signs but have a different meaning. Sign language is very localised and a signing community develops its own ‘short hand’.

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