British Sign Language


A language of United Kingdom

Alternate Names

77,000 (2014 EUD). L2 users: 250,000 (2013 K. Crombie Smith). 310,000 (2014 IMB).



Language Status

5 (Developing).


Scottish Sign Language, Welsh Sign Language. Deaf community is cohesive so communication good despite regional variation. 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. Linguists sometimes use the name BANZSL to refer to them as a group, while still recognizing them as having separate sociolinguistic identities (2003 T. Johnston). Not inherently intelligible to users of American Sign Language [ase].


Two-handed fingerspelling.

Language Use

Good regional and national organizations for the deaf. Interpreters required in court, and provided in some other situations. Increasing desire to train deaf children in BSL. Organization for sign language teachers. Deaf schools established in the late 18th century.

Language Development
New media. Films. TV. Videos. Dictionary. Grammar. Bible portions: 2011–2014.
Other Comments

In 2003, British Government recognized BSL as a language (2014 J. Lapiak). 780 working sign language interpreters (2014 EUD). Many thousands of people sign BSL as an L2. Numerous helps available to learn language: instruction for parents of deaf children and other hearing people. Christian (Protestant).