Sign language is a comfortable form of communication for deaf people and enables them to converse with each other. It allow them a freedom that lip reading and vocal expression cannot.
Defining Sign Language
Sign language differs from country to country but is always a highly expressive form of communication. It is normally referred to by the country’s name. American Sign Language, New Zealand Sign Language and British Sign Language are three examples. It is an integral part of the deaf culture
Sign Language is a Visual Language
Sign language is extremely visual and many of the signs have relevance to the object they are describing. The signs for some animals relate to typical actions of that animal and others mimic an action. Deaf people communicate rapidly through signing and observers can see the playful quality of the language as they improvise and add humour, imagination and personality.
Hand Shape and Position in Sign Language
Hand position conveys a wealth of meaning. Depending on whether the sign is near the head or the heart, it can have an intellectual or emotional meaning. The same sign used on different parts of the body can also have different meanings.
Sign Language is Complex
Sign language is not just hand movements but involves the whole body and face. The person signing will often mouth the words and use exaggerated facial expression to add to the meaning of what they are communicating. Unfamiliar objects and names will be spelt out using their fingers.
Does Sign Language have Limitations
Sign language is the first language for most deaf people and English is a second language. Contrary to popular belief, sign is a comprehensive form of communication and can express anything a written language can.
Sign Language Etiquette
This is especially relevant in formal settings and when interpreters are involved.
- Hands are the focal point and they need to be free of dangly bracelets and accessories that can distract
- Plain colored clothes are best as they form a clear background for the signing
- Ensure the parties involved have a clear view of each other
- Beards and facial hair can obstruct meaning and communication
- Chewing gum or eating while signing is considered rude
Where do Interpreters Fit in
Deaf people are the only group in the world who are forced to rely on interpreters who live outside of their culture. The ideal interpreting situation is from a second or third language into the mother tongue. This is not the case with sign language where the hearing person is interpreting from English into sign which is a second language. An interpreter must never edit or distort the meaning of what a person is signing.
Sign Language opens doors of communication and the majority of deaf people use it in one form or another. Families and friends of deaf people often learn to sign and many have found it to be an enriching experience. It is worth learning a few basic signs and how to finger-spell as this knowledge will allow a simple conversation with a deaf person.