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BSL - British Sign Language

BSL stands for British Sign Language, a visual language used by 156,000 people (updated 2/10/2013) in the UK. It is a natural language created by deaf people and dates back hundreds of years. Did you know that many hearing people also use BSL, making it more common than Welsh and Gaelic! 

More about BSL

The history of BSL

Information on 'BSL Charter'

BSL and Deaf Population

Sign Language Week - 2015


Quick facts - Sign Language

What is Sign Language?:
Deaf people around the world communicate using sign language as distinct from spoken language in their every day lives. A Sign Language is a visual language that uses a system of manual, facial and body movements as the means of communication. Sign language is not an universal language, and different sign languages are used in different countries, like the many spoken languages all over the world. Some countries such as Belgium, the UK, the USA or India may have more than one sign language. Hundreds of sign languages are in used around the world, for instance, Japanese Sign Language, (or Nihon Shuwa, JSL), British Sign Language (BSL), Spanish Sign Language (Lengua de signos o señas española, or LSE), Turkish Sign Language (or Türk İşaret Dili, TID).

Sign Languages are organised like sign languages, and can be analysed at the phonological, morphological, grammatical and lexical levels, and there are differences at each of these levels between the many different sign languages. There are however language families of sign languages: American Sign Language, French Sign Language (or langue des signes française, LSF) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) are a part of the same sign language family.
Some of the world’s sign languages are legally recognised in national laws or constitutions, or are mentioned in the laws of different countries, such as those relating to education, the justice system, etc. Other sign languages are not recognised or considered as languages. Deaf communities all over the world strive to have their Sign Languages recognised as fully-fledged languages and to secure their right to live daily life in their sign language.
Signed Languages in most countries and communities are not written languages – just like many other (spoken) languages of the world.
Signed Languages are processed dominantly in the left hemisphere of the brain, just as all other (spoken) languages are, in the Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas, and so they are natural languages.
Having access to a signed language is central to any deaf person, child or adult for their cognitive, social, emotional and linguistic growth. Signed Languages are acquired by children in the same timeframe as spoken languages and this acquisition process shows similar patterns and milestones as a spoken language acquisition process. It is important that deaf children at early ages have access to a sign language – it should be understood as their first language, their education can be achieved bilingually in the national sign language and the national written/spoken language.
Language and culture are interrelated. Deaf culture is deeply dependent and rooted in signed languages.

British Sign Language (BSL):
Within Britain the most common form of Sign Language is called British Sign Language (BSL). BSL has it’s own grammatical structure and syntax, as a language it is not dependant nor is it strongly related to spoken English. BSL is the preferred language of 156,000 people within the UK.

BSL - a recognised language?:
After a big campaign led by British Deaf Association, BSL was finally recognised by the UK government as an official minority language in 2003. This has led to increased funding for the needs of the coummunication of people who are Deaf, and an increased awareness of the language which now has a similar status to that of other minority national languages such as Gaelic and Welsh.

Sign Supported English (SSE): 
Another form of sign language used in Britain is known as Sign Supported English (SSE). SSE is not a language in itself. SSE uses the same signs as BSL but they are used in the same order as spoken English. SSE is used to support spoken English, especially within schools where children with hearing impairments are learning English grammar along side their signing, or by people who mix mainly with hearing people.

A worldwide language?:
Many hearing people have the false impression that Sign Language is a worldwide universal language, but this however is far from the truth. Because of the isolated nature of Sign Language there is even significant variation from city to city within Britain, this is known as regional variation and can be thought of as being similar to regional accents and colloquialisms found in spoken languages. Other countries have their own sign language.

When deaf people communicate with other deaf people from other nations they often use International Sign (IS). IS is a contact form of signing/communication system (as distinct from a full language) used at international meetings such as the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) Congress and events such as the Deaflympics.



BSL Fingerspelling Alphabet - Click on the image below to enlarge: