Sign languages

According to Ethnologue, there are 114 sign languages around the world. The most widely used is American Sign Language (ASL), with an estimated 500,000 to 2 million users, according to this site. Probably the next most widely used is British Sign Language (BSL), with up 250,000 users, between 30,000 and 70,000 of whom use BSL as their first language, according to the BBC.

Does anybody know whether there are any sign language polyglots – those familiar with many sign languages? Or whether there are many blind people who can read many languages in braille? I wonder what kind of challenges users of one sign language face when learning different sign language, and how difficult would it be for blind people to learn another language through braille.

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26 Responses to Sign languages

  1. Mike says:

    My ASL teacher in high school was familiar with ASL, some BSL, SEE (Signing Exact English), and one other signed language whose name I can’t remember. She also knew a bit of Irish!

  2. TJ says:

    I think the main challenge when you move from ASL to BSL in the first step is when you have to learn to sign the letters with both hands instead of one as in ASL. In braille I think blind people can manage learning easily if they are used to the latin version. Maybe some more dots to make new shapes are added for new letters that are not present in the native tongue of the blind person. But it would be, I guess, something almost totally different if you apply braille for Arabic, because there are some sounds that are not present in most of the latin-based alphabets … but I don’t know how much similarities are there between both systems!

    I can tell you about my own difficulty when I learn ASL by a DVD … you have to aid yourself and yet you have to train your eyes for speedy translations of the movements of the hands (and yet this is something I couldn’t master yet!). Too bad we don’t have ASL classes here, for me I need someone to push me with such a thing and not depend on myself entirely! … without a push I can’t do it perfectly!

  3. Llewyn says:

    I know ASL, BSL, Signed English, DGS (Deutsche Geb├Ąrdensprache), and some turkish and korean sign language. All of them are quite unique, however signed english is really just modified ASL.

  4. Janis says:

    Have a friend I met at the North American Cwrs Cymraeg this past summer who learned/is learning Welsh, and reads it with Braille. She’s a very advanced student and incredibly smart. Doesn’t seem to cause her any problems; it’s just another language like English for her when written, just another writing system.

    I’ve got another friend who’s seriously deaf and speaks Spanish fluently as well as English. She studied it in school and lived there for a while as an exchange student. Her detectors may stink, but her processor is brilliant. She’s got the brain of a language maven, even if her ears don’t work very well. Many artists wear corrective lenses, after all.

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