British Sign Language (BSL) is a visual language with (as yet) no commonly used written form.  Deaf people who use BSL see it as their first or preferred language and English (or whatever spoken language is used where they live) as a second language.  Unfortunately, because of lack of access to education, some Deaf people experience problems with literacy of a second spoken language.

Amy and Zing's A-Z of Deaf people and sign language

Amy and Zing are two lively, off-the-wall characters – not at all like a lot of people's stereotypes of Deaf people. They offer an introduction to sign language communication, from A to Z. They focus mainly on BSL, but many of the points they make apply equally well to Deaf people and sign languages in other countries.

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Exercise - True or False

True or False: Sign language is International

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BSL uses signs, not words.  There are many other differences between BSL and English.  For example, BSL has a different structure (syntax and grammar) to English.

BSL sentence structure example

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Unlike English, in BSL the verb often precedes the noun. The English sentence ‘Have you found a job?’ becomes ‘FOUND JOB (YOU)'.

Exercise - Reconstruct a written English sentence using BSL structure

Sentence: Where do you live?

Drag the individual words into the purple box to reconstruct the sentence using BSL structure, then check your answer.

Where

Do

You

Live

Live

Where

You

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Language is not value-free, written language is often given a higher status than spoken language and some spoken languages are given higher values than others. Some hearing people coming to live in the UK feel their own home languages are not valued as much as English. In the same way, BSL is often seen as inferior to spoken language in this country, BSL was only officially recognised by the UK government as a full and independent language in 2003.

Bilingualism and Trilingualism

Not all hearing people in this country use English as a first language. Some families with deaf children use English, Urdu and sign language at home - trilingualism, not justbilingualism. Research suggests that some families with deaf children in the UK use up to 47 different languages.

Regional variation in general

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North vs South

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Scotland

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Sign 'People' used in the UK

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Exercise - True or False

True or False: There is no regional variation in British Sign Language

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Fingerspelling is a method of communication using the spelling out of the letters of the alphabet on the fingers using the grammar of the spoken language. In Britain, both hands are used, while in other countries, such as the USA or Ireland, it is done on one hand. Deaf people who use BSL sometimes use fingerspelling for proper nouns or words that have no sign as yet, such as 'microchip'.

People who become deaf may use speech but find it helpful if people fingerspell the first letter of a word as a clue as to what is to follow e.g. L for London.

BSL right-handed fingerspelling alphabet

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BSL left-handed fingerspelling alphabet

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Irish one-handed fingerspelling alphabet

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Exercise - True or False

True or False: Fingerspelling is commonly used to spell a person's name

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Want to practise individual letters? Try the FingerSpell website where you can practise and record your fingerspelling

www.fingerspell.org
Figure 1: www.fingerspell.org

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1 - 10

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11 - 20

G0310

21, 22, 31, 41, 51, 61, 81, 100

G0311

200, 220, 245, 300, 500, 1000, 1000000

G0312

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Deafblind people experience loss of both hearing and vision. Deafblind people sometimes use the deafblind manual alphabet fingerspelt onto the hand or the Block Alphabet (capital letters spelt onto the palm of the hand). Deafblind people may also use visual-frame BSL (close up and in the centre of their visual range) or hands-on BSL, placing their hands around the other person signing.

People who are born deaf and lose their vision usually have some form of 'Usher Syndrome', a genetic condition that inflicts hearing and vision loss and affects 4-6% of deaf people. Most have acquired sign language skills and so adapt their communication to ‘hands on signing’, where their hands are placed over the hands of the person signing to them, or ‘visual frame’ signing (close up and in the centre of the visual range). Others, whose first language is English, may use the deafblind manual alphabet.

Hands on signing

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Usher syndrome

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Exercise - Answer the question

Question: When trying to get the attention of a deaf person which method is most appropriate?

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Not all deaf people use BSL, even those who have been deaf from early childhood. Some people use speech and lipreading and are called ‘oral deaf people’.

'Oralism' is used to describe the education of deaf children using speech. People who become deafened or hard of hearing after the age of 5 already have spoken language, so they may learn to lipread and continue to use it as their preferred means of communication when they grow up. People who become deafened or hard of hearing as adults usually prefer to communicate in English through lipreading, writing or the use of any residual hearing they have.

Stories of Oralism - 1

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Stories of Oralism - 2

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Exercise - True or False

True or False: It is important to ask a deaf person's preferred language and way of communicating

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Language is not straightforwardly just a means of communication, language can be used to dominate, to exclude as well as to include. It represents relationships between individuals, groups and nations. This means that minority language users are often dominated by the majority group. This can be seen through history by the banning of the Welsh language in schools in Wales and the banning of sign languages in schools for deaf children in 1880. But can also be seen today in the workplace and everyday life where a minority language exists within a majority language environment.

Stories of social exclusion - 1

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Stories of social exclusion - 2

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Stories of social exclusion - 3

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Exercise - True or False

True or False: Company policy should dictate that Deaf colleagues attend group meetings with their Hearing colleagues without a sign language interpreter, so they can develop their spoken language skills more quickly

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Language is not value-free, written language is often given a higher status than spoken language and some spoken languages are given higher values than others. Some hearing people coming to live in the UK feel their own home languages are not valued as much as English. In the same way, BSL is often seen as inferior to spoken language in this country, BSL was only officially recognised by the UK government as a full and independent language in 2003.

Want to learn some signs? Try MobileSign our free British Sign Language lexicon app

www.mobilesign.org
Figure 2: www.mobilesign.org

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