British Sign Language


A language of United Kingdom

Alternate Names

40,000 L1 users (Deuchar 1984) out of 909,000 deaf; majority probably have some degree of sign language competence (Deuchar 1977).


England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.

Language Status

5 (Developing).


Not inherently intelligible to users of American Sign Language [ase]. Deaf community is cohesive so communication good despite regional differences. Signing varies along a continuum from something usually called Signed English (which draws on BSL vocabulary but uses grammatical structure like spoken English) to natural BSL. Different styles of signing used in different situations, and signers vary in terms of how much of the range of signing styles they control. Many structural similarities between British Sign Language (BSL), Australian Sign Language (Auslan) [asf], and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) [nzs] and a high degree of mutual intelligibility (Johnston 2003). Linguists sometimes use the name BANZSL to refer to them as a group, while still recognizing each as a separate language.

Language Use

Good regional and national organizations for the deaf. Interpreters required in court, and provided in some other situations. Instruction for parents of deaf children. Many sign language classes for hearing people. Increasing desire to train deaf children in BSL. Organization for sign language teachers. Committee on national sign language. Sign language used before 1644. Deaf schools established in the late 18th century.

Language Development
Films. TV. Videos. Dictionary. Grammar.
HamNoSys Notation. Stokoe Notation, most common usage.