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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
|Source: Dubai Gold & Jewellery Group|
Following the signs
Language is something that many of us take for granted. In a multi-national culture as diverse as the one we have here in Dubai, many people are often capable of speaking more than one language and simply taking a minute to listen to other people chatting around you in the mall or on the Metro reveals the rich melting pot of words that surround us.
But imagine that you were unable to converse with others vocally. For those who are hard of hearing or deaf, sign language is the tool that bridges the gap. A variety of hand symbols and gestures can be understood by those who speak sign language and allow the deaf to communicate as quickly and efficiently as those who are able to hear and speak.
Spoken language involves words in sequence, one following another, and lots of them. The grammar we use when speaking forms an important part of how we communicate what we mean. Through the ear, the brain processes and decodes this information, piece by piece, hence why good communicators tend to express their thoughts in digestible 'chunks' rather than long, convoluted sentences.
Words can be spoken at roughly double the rate at which sign language can be produced, yet it is possible to say the same thing, in the same space of time. How can this be? The answer is simple yet quite amazing. Sign language relies less on 'words' and more on the inventive use of space and movement. The location of signs within a space, the speed, direction, type of movement and the hand symbols used, combined with information carried by the head, face and body, can all be taken in by the eye at the same time. Things can happen simultaneously in a visual language, concentrating the details needed to understand the message in an economic and effective way.
There are many different types of sign language across the world. Each region has its own unique variation, however two of the most commonly used and understood and American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL). While some of the gestures can overlap or prove similar, the two are effectively different languages - the main difference being that ASL is often spoken using one hand and BSL mainly uses both.
This has raised the question of whether an international sign language can exist. Like the spoken language Esperanto, which is intended to be an international auxiliary language that people from all over the world can learn and communicate with, an attempt at International Sign Language (ISL), also known as Gestuno, was created in 1973.
This constructed sign language was created when a committee created and standardised a system of international signs. They tried to choose the most understandable signs from a diverse selection of sign languages to make the language easy to learn for both deaf and hearing people.
Once the commonly understood gestures and signs had been agreed, a book was published containing around 1500 signs in total. However, the language was not an instant hit, with many claiming that because it does not have concrete grammar underlining it, Gestuno itself cannot be deemed a real language. At present, some deaf people use Gestuno at the World Games for the Deaf and the Deaf Way Conference and Festival in the United States, but besides that its use is very limited and it does not appear to be growing with younger generations of sign speakers.
American Sign Language (ASL)
American Sign Language (ASL) uses a variety of signs made by moving the hands combined with facial expressions and postures of the body. The exact beginnings of ASL are not clear, but some people suggest that it was created more than 200 years ago, when local sign languages were mixed with French Sign Language (LSF, or Langue des Signes Française).
The ASL used today includes some elements of LSF plus the original local sign languages, which over the years have developed and changed into a rich, complex, and mature language. ASL is not solely used in America however, with other countries such as Canada, The Philippines, adopting it as the main form of communication for the deaf community, often interweaving signs from their own native sign language. One of the most universally understood symbols from ASL is the sign for "I love you", which involves pointing the thumb, forefinger and pinky straight, while tucking down the middle two fingers.
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, varying from region to region as you travel across the country. As an actual language, BSL is not strongly related to spoken English, however its relative easiness to learn makes it the preferred language of between 50,000 - 70,000 people within the UK.
Another form of sign language quite commonly used in Britain is known as Sign Supported English (SSE). SSE is not a language in itself so to speak; it uses the same signs as BSL but in the same order as spoken English. SSE is commonly used within schools where children with hearing impairments learn English grammar alongside signing, or by people who mix mainly with hearing people.
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