Sign language across the pond — and beyond

William Woods ASL

A recent blog post covered the UK’s first BSL poetry slam, and how sign language poetry utilizes visual elements to create beauty. But did you know that BSL and ASL are not as similar as you might think?

“ASL and BSL are two separate languages which arose independently of each other. Although there are some signs which appear similar to the other’s, the lexicon is largely quite different in each language, and under ordinary circumstances, these two languages are mutually incomprehensible to the other,” writes Don Grushkin, a Professor of Deaf Studies. “Perhaps the most obvious difference is that ASL uses a one-handed fingerspelling alphabet while BSL uses a two-handed alphabet.”

One mental floss article notes that sign languages develop within deaf communities, which means they can be independent of the surrounding spoken language — so while English is the spoken language of both the UK and US, American Sign Language (ASL) is quite different from British Sign Language (BSL).

ASL and BSL are two separate languages
The above picture from mental floss shows the sign WHERE in BSL (on the left) and ASL (on the right).

“Sign languages, like spoken languages, developed naturally out of groups of people interacting with each other. We know this because we have observed it happen in real time,” the article says.

Calvin Young, Deaf traveler and host of the YouTube show Seek the World travels all over comparing sign languages, and showing the various alphabets in different sign languages from all over the world. Watch his recent comparison of Peruvian Sign Language with ASL below.

As ASL interest grows, and more people are interested in studying abroad, so have studying comparative sign languages abroad. If you’re a William Woods student studying ASL, and interested in going abroad, visit the Office of Career Services as soon as possible to figure out if there is a program right for you and your academic plan.

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