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Sign Language: United Kingdom and Ireland

  • By: John Bosco Conama
  • In: The SAGE Deaf Studies Encyclopedia
  • Edited by: Genie Gertz & Patrick Boudreault
  • Subject:Physical Disabilities, Otorhinolaryngology (Ears, Nose, & Throat)

There are two main signed languages in use in the British Isles, namely, Irish Sign Language (ISL) and British Sign Language (BSL). However, recently, a case has been forwarded to include recognition of Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL) as a separate language of that region.

Evolving Through the Ages

Linguistically, both ISL and BSL are very different though there are many interconnections between both signed languages resulting from the commingling of individual, social, and economic factors. The most noticeable difference between ISL and BSL centralizes on the use of fingerspelling. BSL has a two-handed finger spelled alphabet whereas ISL has a one-handed alphabet.

The first documented reference to a signed language in Britain can be traced back to the 16th century, to a wedding ceremony conducted in ...

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