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British Sign Language
Signed in: United Kingdom
Total signers: 40,000 first-language signers;
out of a deaf population of 909,000, most having varying degrees of understanding
Language family: BANZSL
Language codes
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: sgn-GB
ISO 639-3: bfi

Template:Infobox Language/signnotice

British Sign Language (BSL) is the sign language used in the United Kingdom (UK), and is the first or preferred language of an unknown number of deaf people in the UK (published estimates vary from 30,000 to 250,000 but the actual number is likely to be closer to the former than the latter figure). The language makes use of space and involves movement of the hands, body, face and head. Many thousands of people who are not deaf also use BSL, as relatives of deaf people, sign language interpreters or as a result of other contact with the British deaf community.

Relationships with other sign languages

Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as the predominant spoken language, British Sign Language is quite distinct from American Sign Language (ASL). BSL fingerspelling is also different from ASL as it uses two hands instead of one. BSL is also distinct from Irish Sign Language (ISL) (ISG in the ISO system) which is more closely related to French Sign Language (LSF) and ASL. Northern Ireland Sign Language (NISL) has BSL as one of its two mother languages. Both NISL and ISL are used in Northern Ireland.

It is also distinct from Signed English, a manually coded method expressed to represent the English language.

The sign languages used in Australia and New Zealand, Auslan and New Zealand Sign Language, respectively, evolved largely from 19th Century BSL, and all retain the same manual alphabet, grammar, and similar lexicon. BSL, Auslan and NZSL together may be called BANZSL. Makaton, a communication system for people with cognitive impairments or other communication difficulties, was originally developed with signs borrowed from British Sign Language.

BSL users campaigned to have BSL recognised on a similar level to Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish. BSL was recognised as an official British language by the UK government on 18 March 2003, but it has no legal protection. In New Zealand, New Zealand Sign Language has joined English and Māori to become that country's third official language.


BSL has many regional dialects. Signs used in Scotland, for example, may not always be understood in the southern England, and vice versa. Some signs are even more local, occurring only in certain towns or cities (such as the Manchester system of number signs). Likewise, some may go in or out of fashion, or evolve over time, just as terms in spoken languages do.

Many British television channels broadcast programmes with in-vision signing, using BSL, as well as specially made programmes aimed mainly at deaf people such as the BBC's See Hear and Channel 4's VEE-TV.

Learning British Sign Language

British Sign Language can be learnt throughout the UK and an examination system exists. Courses are provided by Community Colleges, local Centres for Deaf People and private organisations. Most tutors are native users of sign language and hold a relevant teaching qualification.

The Council for the Advancement of Communication with Deaf People (CACDP, also known as CAP) provides awards at the following level:

  • Level I – Elementary
  • Level II – Intermediate
  • NVQ 3 – Advanced
  • NVQ 4 – Required as part of the NVQ 4 BSL/English Interpreting

The Sign Community British Deaf Association has formed the BSL Academy to provide an official British Sign Language curriculum and tutor training.

Becoming a BSL / English Interpreter

Applications for Junior, Trainee or MRSLI status are considered and vetted by the Independent Registration Panel. To be eligible, requirements such as the relevant qualifications and a clean criminal record must be met. Interpreters must have an advanced knowledge of English and BSL and must have the capacity to accurately process information very quickly.

Interpreters may apply for the status of "Junior Trainee Interpreter" after completing the NVQ 3 BSL assessment. They may then undertake work in restricted settings. Once at this level, university courses exist to assist people at becoming full interpreters. Courses are often mapped against the CACDP NVQ 3 or 4 in BSL and/or NVQ 4 BSL/English Interpreting. Once registered with an approved course, interpreters are eligible for the "Trainee Interpreter" title and can work in a wider variety of settings.

After completing an approved course and once the interpreter has been assessed for the NVQ 4 in BSL Interpreting, Trainees can apply to become a "Member of the Register of Sign Language Interpreters" (MRSLI). This status allows an interpreter to work in all settings. Even once MRSLI status is achieved, however, an interpreter is required to undertake Continuous Professional Development.

The Association of Sign Language Interpreters provides seminars, a network of regional groups and a mentoring scheme. When available, specialist training is required to work in specific domains. Membership is available at Affiliate, Corporate, Associate and Licensed levels. The latter two categories provide the interpreter with professional indemnity insurance.

See also

  • Languages in the United Kingdom
  • UK topics

External links

de:British Sign Language sv:BSL

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