A few years ago I took up sign language… not through any real need, more the start of a lifelong experiment in beginning to explore whether the use of symbols and signs could be a more effective and cheaper method of communication than the translation of words. Also I work with Finns, who are able to sit for extended periods of time with their best friends and family in utter, complete silence and I wondered if it was possible they might be up to something.
Sadly I only got as far as NVQ level 1 before a distinct lack of spare time meant I had to call it a day – but in that short space I’ve never enjoyed learning a language so much and thoroughly recommend it to everyone. So here are 5 interesting facts about sign language to make you sign up for a course:
1) Learning sign language is an experience in itself. You can’t really work with books so the best way to learn it is by copying. Lessons normally work with the teacher telling a story and you repeat it. It’s like the old storytelling methods round the campfire where wisdom is passed from one to another… and it’s utterly compelling.
2) Signs for the same thing can differ by region… or even person.
3) Some signs are just fascinating and brilliantly logical. For example the sign for “experience” mimics something falling out of your brain onto paper.
4) Context is king. Some signs are as simple as spelling out the first letter of the word – but you have to watch the shape being made with the mouth and figure out the word by context. For instance the sign for “Mother” and “Monday” are the same.
5) Sign language has its own fascinating grammar. It incorporates word order, facial expressions and uses physical positions around the signer to demonstrate certain aspects of grammar. Word order is different too – notably interrogatives appear last, so “What’s your name?” would be rendered in BSL as “you name what?”.
If you are interested in learning BSL, www.signature.org.uk is a great place to start.
Author: Giles Poole