Sign language | Definition, History and Facts

Sign language

A Rich Communication system for the Deaf Community

Sign language is a unique and expressive form of communication used by deaf individuals to interact with one another and with the hearing world. It is a visual-gestural language that relies on hand movements, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. In this article we will explore the definition, history, and interesting facts about sign language.

Definition of sign language:

Sign language is a natural language that employs visual and gestural components to communicate. It is used by deaf and hard of hearing individuals, as well as by hearing individuals who interact with the deaf community. Sign languages have their own grammar and syntax, and they are distinct from spoken languages.  They are recognized as fully fledged languages with their own linguistic structures and cultural significance.

History of sign language:

The origins of sign language can be traced back to ancient times.  Throughout history, deaf individuals have used signs to communicate with one another.  However, it was not until the 18th century that sign language began to be formally recognized and studied.

One significant figure in the history of sign language is Abbe Charles-Michel de Epee recognized the natural gestural language used by the deaf and developed a system of manual French signs to facilitate communication.  His work laid the foundation for the development of sign languages around the world.

Another notable figure is Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, an American educator who traveled to Europe in the early 19th century to learn about educational methods for the deaf. Gallaudet met Laurent Clerk, a deaf educator from France, and together they established the first permanent school for the deaf in the United States, now known as the American School for the Deaf. This collaboration led to the spread of sign language in America and the development of American Sign Language (ASL).

Facts about Sign Language:

Diversity:  sign languages are not universal and vary from country to country. Just as spoken languages differ, sign languages have unique regional variations and dialects.  For example, ASL in the United States is different from British Sign Language (BSL) used in the United Kingdom.

Linguistic Complexity: sign languages are complex and rich in grammar. They utilize hand shapes, movement, facial expressions, and body language to convey meaning. Sign language can express abstract concepts, emotions, and even poetry.

Visual-Gestural Modality:

Sign languages are perceived visually. Deaf individuals rely on visual cues and context to understand and produce signs. Facial expressions and body movements are crucial elements that convey grammatical information and nuances of meaning.


Sign languages have gained recognition as official languages in many countries.  For example, ASL is recognized as a separate language in the United States, and it has legal protections under the American with Disabilities Act.

Benefits of Bilingualism:

Deaf people who use sign language as their primary mode of communication often benefit from bilingual education, where both sign language and the written/spoken language of the majority are taught. This approach enhances language development, cognitive abilities, and overall communication skills.

Sign language Interpreters:

Professional sign language interpreters play a crucial role in facilitating communication between deaf and hearing individuals. They bridge the gap by interpreting spoken language into sign language and vice versa, enabling effective communication in various settings, such as educational institutions, work places, and public events.

In conclusion, sign language is a remarkable form of communication that allows deaf individuals to express themselves, connect with others, and participate fully in society.  It has a rich history, with influential figures contributing to its development and recognition. Sign languages are diverse, linguistically complex.

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