The History of Auslan Sign Language - Speak Your Language | Australia

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The History of Auslan Sign Language

Posted on: July 13, 2020 by admin

Auslan (Australian Sign Language) has been used by many hearing-impaired people for over 100 years. It is just like any other language, but instead of speaking, it uses facial expressions as well as hand and body language. Like any other language, it requires a lot of practice and studies to become fluent, especially to become an Auslan translator or interpreter.

Australia had many cultural influences from Britain and Ireland in the 19th century. Auslan is no different as it has evolved from sign language in Britain, making it a dialect of the BSL (British Sign Language). John Carmichael was the first known person to introduce BSL to Australia in the 1800s, he was hearing-impaired and moved to Australia from Edinburgh in 1825.

Residential Schools

The first school in Australia for hearing-impaired individuals was established in the mid-nineteenth century, when Thomas Pattison, who was impaired himself, began the Sydney school after completing his studies at the Edinburgh Deaf and Dumb Institution. Frederick Rose started the first high impaired school in Melbourne after completing his education at Old Kent Road School in London.

The Australian Dialect

If you hear an Australian speaking English, you can easily tell from the accent, slang, and dialect the differences between Australian and British English. This is similar to Auslan interpreting, which has developed some unique characteristics and signs over time due to the limited contact of signers with other signers from different parts of Australia.

The Irish Impact

Irish sign language (ISL) had an impact on Auslan when it was brought to Australia by Irish nuns who worked in the first Catholic school for hearing-impaired children. Irish sign language is quite unique in nature as it uses a one-handed alphabet, which was used by some private Australian Catholic schools. Public schools used the traditional AUSLAN, based on the BSL that uses two-handed fingerspelling. Although Australian sign language communities were mixed in dialects, this how the language kept evolving.


A few signs used in modern Auslan language interpretation have originated from ISL, which makes the Irish one-handed alphabet familiar to AUSLAN signers today. These signs continue to be used by AUSLAN interpreters in Australia, even though the most common fingerspelling remains the two-handed alphabet.

The ‘Aussie’ Auslan Dialects

People across Australia have a different ‘Aussies’ accent, from region to region and sometimes on a suburb-level. Auslan is no different, but it is limited to two main dialects, emerging from the two main schools in Sydney and Melbourne.

The Modern Auslan

Languages are becoming more dynamic with the ever-evolving world and technology, Auslan is not an exception. Auslan has been changing rapidly, thanks to the network of Auslan interpreter service providers in Australia, who work to facilitate secondary and tertiary education as well as the delivery of governmental, legal and medical services. This has made interpreting companies realise the need to standardise the language as well as develop new signs to meet new needs.

If you are looking for Auslan sign interpreter in Australia, talk to the team at Speak Your Language today to access a range of affordable accredited interpreters across the country.