There are nearly 6,900 languages in use around the world. There’s a lot of variety among those: some contain clicks, in some the tone of your voice can completely change a sentence and some are written like this…
Let’s not forget sign languages. But are sign languages really languages, like the other thousands? Wycliffe’s partners SIL are language experts, and on their Ethnologue* blog, they’ve been answering this question.
Can sign languages truly be languages? People say, we don’t read and write sign languages. Well, in fact, systems have been developed to write sign languages for others to read but it is true that few deaf people write their sign languages. On the other hand, sign languages are not so different in this regard since in fact the majority of spoken languages have not been reduced to writing either.
Some ask, aren’t sign languages just hand motions that stand for words in the person’s national language? No, signs stand for concepts just as words in a spoken language do. But they don’t match up one for one. Some signs will have a range of meaning that covers several words; some words will need different signs depending on the context in which the word is used. And while there is a system for signing English, for example, and it uses quite a few of the same signs as American Sign Language, it’s not a natural language. ASL has an entirely different grammar that is more natural, streamlined and fine-tuned for use in a visual medium.
Some countries have more than one signed language. The west of Panama signs differently from the east. In Nepal, besides Nepali Sign Language there are three “village sign languages” that we know about. Village sign languages are ones typically used by deaf and hearing alike when the population in a small region has a significantly high number of deaf people. Read more.