Sign Languages of the World
October 15, 2021 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I have a question about mutual intelligibility of Sign Language around the world.

I'm considering the logistics of making a photo book that would teach sign language, in single words, to babies (examples: more, please, food, milk, sleep, etc). I'd like it to be translatable for multiple languages around the world. What are the main sign languages needed, and the countries where they'd be used?

For instance, I know for sure that American Sign Language would work in both the USA and Canada. And I've seen this map showing Sign Language families... but I wouldn't expect American and Italian sign language to be the same, even if they both derived from a French root. And it's much harder to figure out something like, could photos of words in British Sign Language work in Australia and South Africa, where the languages are similar?

(If this project moves ahead, it would involve actual paid Deaf consultants and models to ensure it's done right - for now, I'm just spitballing to get a sense of the logistics and if it's even possible, before involving other people).
posted by nouvelle-personne to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Ethnologue is a decent source on what languages are spoken where by how many people. Like, it's not perfect because estimating numbers of speakers is hard, but it's pretty decent, and linguists often cite and rely on it. It looks like you can't access their speaker counts without a subscription, but Wikipedia has a table sourced from them that might be a place to start.

I am a linguist but I am not a sign language linguist.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:05 PM on October 15, 2021

Seek the World has some fun comparisons between sign languages. Here is one comparing ASL to Icelandic Sign Language and here is one that compares Taiwanese Sign Language with ASL.

I'm glad you are going to work with Deaf consultants, but before you step into this maybe just be aware of some of the background regarding baby sign.

I don't really fully understand what you are trying to do, signed languages are like spoken languages in that there are different words for different things in the different signed languages; just like milk is not "milk" in French or Spanish, the signs for milk will be different in the different signed languages. So I'm not sure how you'd make it translatable. If you could finagle a book for babies that compared the different languages though, that could be really fun.
posted by Toddles at 8:17 PM on October 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Just to give you a little more to chew on, here is American Sign Language vs. British Sign Language and one comparing four languages: Denmark, British, American, German.
posted by Toddles at 8:27 PM on October 15, 2021 will show you videos of a word or sentence in multiple (though largely European) sign languages.

Can't figure out how to link to a specific word but here are some verbs, try "argue" for example. There's a broad commonality of two hands doing contrary motion -- but the gestures are widely different. They're different languages.

That's the other thing: it's motion. I know that photos of people are appealing, but they don't capture motion. I have pictorial representations of ASL signs, but they're line drawings with arrows to sketch the movements. And they're really as a reminder -- if you tried to learn from them your pronunciation would be atrocious, I expect.
posted by away for regrooving at 8:59 PM on October 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Auslan (Australian) and british sign language are different languages.
posted by chiquitita at 10:34 PM on October 15, 2021

could photos of words in British Sign Language work in Australia and South Africa, where the languages are similar?

Sorry if this is obvious to you, but: Signed languages are not a version of the local spoken language. They're separate languages, with their own vocabulary, grammar, usage, etc. There's no reason to assume that if the spoken languages of 2 countries are similar their signed languages will be too.
posted by signal at 2:30 PM on October 16, 2021

Woops, I just saw that you were referring to BANZSL, my bad, carry on.
posted by signal at 2:31 PM on October 16, 2021

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