British Sign Language (BSL)

About British Sign Language (BSL) and Its Use


British Sign Language (BSL) is a form of sign language that is used in Britain and involves the use of hand movements, gestures, body language and facial expressions to communicate. It is predominantly used by people who are either deaf or have a hearing impairment. According to the statistics, over 120,000 deaf adults and about 20,000 children in the United Kingdom use BSL to communicate with other people. The sign language, however, is also used by their families and relatives as well as sign language interpreters. They enable the deaf to communicate with the hearing people who are not familiar with BSL.

Relationship of BSL with Other Sign Languages

BSL is used exclusively within Britain. It is a part of the so-called BANZSL or British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language, all of which derive from the sign language that was used in the 19th century Britain. In contrary to the popular misconception among the hearing people that deaf sign language is identical throughout the world, no universal sign language exists. In fact, there are even considerable variations in the sign language that is used within Britain.

A deaf person from south England may have difficulties communicating with a deaf person from Scotland. Also, a deaf person using BSL will not be able to communicate with a deaf person using American Sign Language (ASL) because it is not related to the sign languages of BANZSL and shares a very few signs (about 30%). This is due to the fact that sign language is almost completely independent and unrelated to the spoken language. It has its own syntax and grammar. Lastly, sign language is constantly evolving and may include colloquialisms and dialects that are used only in a small geographical region or particular towns and cities.

Recognition of BSL as an Official Minority Language

BSL was recognised as an official minority language only in 2003. This gave it a status similar to that of other minority languages that are spoken within the United Kingdom such as Welsh and Gaelic for instance. But it also ensured it more funds for BSL tutors and interpreters.

Sign Supported English (SSP)

Sign Supported English (SSP) is a form of sign language that is used within Britain. It uses the same signs as BSL but unlike the latter, it is not a language as such. Instead, it supports spoken English with sign language. SSP is used in schools, television and by the hearing people while communicating with deaf individuals.