What are some interesting differences between sign languages?
August 27, 2018 4:17 PM   Subscribe

I have been pretty interested in sign language recently (particularly British Sign Language) and was wondering how users of one sign language view other sign languages, in the same way as English speakers might view Italian as romantic and German as a bit severe. Perhaps some sign languages are seen as being very precise, others use a lot of fingers, others might use more body parts, things like that. From what I have gathered, BSL users seem to think ASL uses a lot of fingerspelling, and ASL users seem to think the same thing about BSL. Also, it seems BSL uses a lot of facial expressions while ASL uses less. Does anybody know of any more differences like this?
posted by iamsuper to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
A Deaf woman I knew in Germany who was from somewhere in Eastern Europe said that the sign language of her home country had a lot more diagonally signed elements than German Sign Language did (German Sign language is apparently more horizontal and vertical). So German Sign Language speakers think that she signs "with an accent".
posted by lollusc at 5:08 PM on August 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

There's a decent amount of work on Black ASL. See also this write up in the Washington Post.

A couple of things from that work--Black ASL has a larger signing space than White ASL, which then gets up being interpreted as being too emotional. Also, you get the typical judgements about minority language that mirror what you see for African American English/Language--that the differences are just "slang", or that it's incorrect/not proper grammar (despite the fact that when there are differences, the Black ASL signs are often closer to older versions of ASL!) , etc.
posted by damayanti at 5:10 PM on August 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

One thing I think is interesting is that the linguistic history of sign languages does not necessarily follow that of the dominant spoken languages in the areas where they are used, for reasons that seem obvious in retrospect but which were not immediately
obvious to me at first. For instance, ASL shares more with LSF (langue des signes fran├žaise) than with BSL.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:39 PM on August 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

I met someone who knew LSF/French sign language so we compared our alphabets (I know some ASL because I took three semesters of it in college but have no fluency) and I was struck by how similar they were, even with the knowledge of how ASL was related to LSF. Many of the signs were the same and those that weren't were still similar enough to be recognizable. I've seen the British signed alphabet and it uses both hands and I would have to actually learn it as it's so different. Sadly, I didn't have the opportunity to learn more LSF beyond the alphabet but I have studied French and would be interested to learn if it does any of the things that ASL does in relation to the English written language (using letters to differentiate variations of the same signs, like how in ASL "group" is a base sign and using the base sign with the letter "f" means "family" "c" means "class" and "t" means "team")
posted by acidnova at 7:29 PM on August 27, 2018

I don't sign myself, but my understanding is that NZSL (New Zealand) uses a lot more mouth movement/facial expression than BSL (from which it was derived I think), which can be considered a bit weird overseas.
posted by BeeJiddy at 9:14 PM on August 27, 2018

I know how to fingerspell in ASL but it's useless in Australia, where I live, because Auslan is very different. Their fingerspelling involves both hands (unlike ASL which is one-handed) and the vowels specifically involve tapping a particular finger on the other hand.
posted by divabat at 9:31 PM on August 27, 2018

Auslan apparently isn't even consistent within Australia, with two different dialects (Northern and Southern which are rather odd divisions considering the geography of the places involved). And then there's Australian Aboriginal sign languages, which mostly are not the same thing as deaf sign languages - though there is also an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dialect of Auslan. I realise that this isn't quite what you are asking but I got interested and thought this was fascinating, so I share in case it is to you as well. Here's a fascinating article about Indigenous deaf sign languages and how they interact (and don't) with Auslan for Indigenous deaf people.
posted by Athanassiel at 1:08 AM on August 28, 2018 [4 favorites]

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