What is the Language?
British sign language, BSL, is a language of the United Kingdom. British Sign Language is a visual mean of communicating using gesture, hand movements, facial expression, and body language to communicate. BSL uses two-handed fingerspelling. Sign Language is not a worldwide universal language, other countries have their own sign language. There is even quite a variation in the sign language that is used within Britain, just as there would be within spoken English in Britain. “BSL has its own grammatical structure and syntax, as a language, it is not dependent nor is it strongly related to spoken English” (British Sign Language 2017). Signing varies along a continuum from what is called Signed English. “Many structural and lexical similarities between British Sign Language, Australian Sign Language, and New Zealand Sign Language and a high degree of mutual intelligibility” (T. Johnston 2003). Sometimes Linguists will refer to them as BANZSL. There are different styles used in different situations, BSL is not always inherently intelligible to users of American Sign Language (T. Johnston 2003).
Who uses BSL?
About 327,000 people use British Sign Language. For 77,000 of the users BSL is their first language (EUD 2014) and for 250,000 users their British Sign Language is their second language (K. Crombie Smith 2013). This language is primarily used for the deaf community, while it can also be used by their families and relatives. As well as, there are jobs where BSL is needed such as interpreters required in court and other situations. There is an increasing desire to train deaf children British Sign Language (Gary F. Simons 2018).
With British Sign Language being an unwritten language, the early history of it is poorly understood. There are very few written records about the use of British Sign Language by the deaf communities in Britain. The records that were written, were written by hearing people which makes them questionable. Though there is solid evidence that as early as the 16th century, the deaf communities were signing and some scholars believe they could have been signing even earlier than that (Sign Community 2018).
According to Sign Community, it is thought that the first form of modern British Sign Language was developed during the 18th century and is believed to be developed due to the growth of cities and used as a standard for international jobs in teaching. As communities began to grow deaf individuals came into contact with other deaf people and eventually they formed communities that developed a more standardized form of sign language. The first school in Britain to include sign language was considered ‘Braidwood’s Academy for Deaf and Dumb.’ This school was opened by Thomas Braidwood in 1760, he introduced the set of standards of British Sign Language that is known today. The school was originally intended for children of the wealthy, though after completing training under Braidwood in the late 18th century, his kinsman Joseph Watson opened the first public school for the deaf in Britain. Though with the positive progress in the development of BSL in the 19th century, most deaf people did not learn the language in schools. And in the early 20th century, deaf children were discouraged and sometimes even punished for signing.
In 1974, it was finally agreed upon that British Sign Language is a language in its own right (Neil Payne, George Spence 2017). It wasn’t until 2003 that British Sign Language was recognized as an official minority language in the United Kingdom (Sign Community 2018). However, “the accessibility to necessary information and literature is not automatically made available in the necessary formats to the Deaf population” (Neil Payne, George Spence 2017).
What is the Language?