International Day of Sign Languages

5 cool facts about sign language

Five cool sign language facts you never knew

Did you know this week is the International Week of Deaf People? And today, September 23, is the International Day of Sign Languages?

These global observances date back to the 1950s when the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) held their first World Congress in September 1958 in Rome, Italy. Ever since, they’ve marked the occasion in the last week of September with an annual celebration for the global Deaf Community.

Various activities and events take place around the world that encourage unity, promote human rights, celebrate achievements and highlight important topics for the Deaf Community.

In honor of the week and International Day of Sign Languages, here are five fascinating facts about sign language:

Sign language was formally developed in the 18th century.

Records of signs date all the way back to 60 AD; however, many credit Charles Michel de l’eppe for the formal creation of sign language.

In 1755, l’eppe founded the first school for deaf children in Paris. Here he developed basic alphabet signs and adapted signs used by his students to communicate words or ideas. He created a sign language dictionary, which is now referred to as Old French Sign Language.

Different countries use their own versions of sign language.

Just like spoken language, sign language changes from country to country, region to region. For example, while the UK and the US both speak English, the sign language in each country is different!

It’s believed that there are about 300 different sign languages being used around the world today, but the exact number is not known. It could be much higher.

Sign language uses more than hand gestures.

Commonly known as ‘signs’, handshapes are a common part of sign language; however, gestures, body language and facial expressions are also used to communicate. For example, facial expressions can change the meaning of different signs.

American Sign Language (ASL) was established more than 200 years ago.

Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet travelled to Europe in 1814 to learn sign language from French educators. He returned from France in 1817 with Laurent Clerc (a graduate of Charles Michel de I’eppe’s school in Paris) and founded the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut. 

Gallaudet and Clerc used elements of French Sign Language and their students’ own signs to create ASL.

ASL is considered a foreign language.

In fact, some universities offer ASL courses that fulfill foreign language credit requirements!

With its own vocabulary, style, and grammar and sentence structure, ASL doesn’t necessarily follow common spoken English conventions. As it originated in France, ASL is similar to French Sign Language.