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What is British Sign Language?

Many think that sign language is a universal language used by all Deaf people worldwide but it’s not. Sign language evolves wherever there are Deaf people. Not only are there international variations but there are regional variations too, much like the regional accents and colloquialisms found in spoken languages.

British Sign Language (BSL) is the signed language of the Deaf community in the UK. A rich and complex visual spatial language, it involves a combination of hand shapes, facial expressions, lip patterns and body language.

The first description of a Deaf person using sign language in England appears in the Marriage Register of St. Martin’s, Leicester in 1576.

BSL has its own grammar and sentence structure and is not a signed equivalent of English.  For the majority of Deaf people in the UK, English is a second or third language.

In spite of being the first or preferred language of approximately 87,000 Deaf people in the UK, BSL is yet to receive the legal recognition in England and Wales that other minority languages such as Welsh and Gaelic have.

Scotland, however, passed the BSL (Scotland) Act in 2015.

Can you imagine how it feels when you communicate in your first language and most people don’t understand you?  Or when you need to access a website or important document in your second language?

The lack of legal recognition means that Deaf people continue to face communication barriers in their daily lives. Everyday tasks like making a medical appointment or dealing with a delay on public transport can be a real challenge.

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