Posts Tagged ‘Ethnologue’

Are sign languages really languages?

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

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…

John 1 verse 1 in Vai

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.

Siji signs in Kerela Sign Language (India) for a recording.

Siji signs in Kerela Sign Language (India) for a recording.

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.

Find out why Bible translation is needed in sign languages too.
*Ethnologue is an amazing linguistic publication with information about all the world’s languages. Browse it online.

Ethnologue: Languages of the World

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

SIL International, a partner organisation of Wycliffe, produces a web and print database of the languages spoken in the world, known as the Ethnologue. This month the 16th print edition of the Ethnologue was published, documenting 6,909 languages, and reflecting many updates from the previous version in 2005.

The new edition contains three fewer living languages than the 15th edition (2005), though, in reality, scores of languages have been added and others removed. Because languages are dynamic, variable and constantly changing, the total number of living languages in the world cannot be counted precisely. Language survey and linguistic research are continually discovering previously unlisted languages. At the same time, endangered languages are becoming extinct when they are no longer spoken, though they may still exist in recordings, written records and transcriptions preserved through language documentation.

The Ethnologue conforms to the ISO 639-3 standard, which provides unique three-letter codes for identifying nearly 7,500 languages, including those not in the scope of the Ethnologue, such as ancient, constructed and some extinct languages. read more

Find out more about what’s involved in researching and documenting unwritten languages, and how you can be trained to be involved, on our Language Assessment page.