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What is British Sign Language?

British Sign Language (BSL) is a language used by more than 70,000 deaf people in the UK and is the first preferred language of the Deaf community. It is a language in its own right with its own vocabulary and structure of grammar, expressed through movement of the hands, body, face and head. Every English word does not have a corresponding sign in BSL so the interpreting process involves expressing the same meaning but using different vocabulary and grammatical structure. BSL, like two-thirds of the world’s languages has no written form but it is just as valued as any spoken/written language.

BSL has many different dialects across the country. Signs used in Scotland for example may not be immediately recognised or understood by those living in the South of England. Some signs are even more local and only used in certain towns or cities.

There is no universal sign language. As an example American Sign Language (ASL) is very different from British Sign Language, which has more similarities with the sign languages used in Australia, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.

The language is constantly evolving and signs may go in and out of fashion. In 2003 BSL was recognised by the government as a language in its own right.


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