Is Sign Language Universal Across The World? - Speak Your Language | Australia

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Is Sign Language Universal Across The World?

Posted on: May 22, 2023 by admin

Just like any spoken language, sign language varies between countries and there are over 300 different sign languages that are used globally. The most widely used sign languages in non-English speaking countries include Chinese Sign Language (CSL or ZGS), Brazilian Sign Language (Libras), Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, and French Sign Language (LSF). There are also several different sign languages used in English-speaking countries including British Sign Language (BSL), American Sign Language (ASL) and AUSLAN (Australian Sign Language).


What Is The Difference Between Sign Languages?

It is commonly assumed that sign language is developed from a country’s spoken language. However, sign language is actually developed based on the interaction of sign users. This means that countries that share the same language may have a completely different set of sign languages. For example, BSL signers will not be able to communicate with ASL signers despite both coming from English-speaking countries. Sign languages differ in terms of handshapes, orientation, location, movement, expression, and fingerspelling.


The Types Of Sign Language

In English-speaking countries, there are three main types of sign language used: Auslan, ASL and BSL.


Australian Sign Language was developed in Australia by incorporating elements of British and Irish sign languages. AUSLAN is now used by around 16,000 signers and is quite similar to BSL. This means AUSLAN and BSL signers can often communicate with one another though they also have significant differences. It’s important to note that AUSLAN has two dialects – northern and southern. The two dialects are very similar and share the same grammar but have different signs for certain things such as days of the week and colour. Though the differences are noticeable, it doesn’t affect communication between signers.


AUSLAN consists of linguistic elements (hand shapes), non-manual features (e.g. facial expressions or body postures), fingerspelling (when a word is spelled out) and its own grammar system.



American Sign Language (ASL) was developed in the American School for the Deaf (ASD) and is used by over 500, 000 people. ASL is largely based on French Sign Language, which means that it is completely different from BSL and AUSLAN. The linguistic elements and grammar are also different and based on using a one-handed fingerspelling system as opposed to the two-handed system that ASL and BSL signers use. This would mean that ASL signers are unable to communicate directly with BSL and AUSLAN signers.



British Sign Language (BSL) is used by approximately 150, 000 people across the United Kingdom. As AUSLAN was derived from BSL, the two sign languages use the same grammar, and manual alphabet and almost share the same vocabulary. However, there is still a significant amount of unique regional vocabulary for both sign languages.


Ensuring that you provide high-quality interpreting services to the deaf community is essential. If you require a qualified AUSLAN interpreter, contact the experts at Speak Your Language today.