British Sign Language


A language of United Kingdom

Alternate Names

327,000, all users. L1 users: 77,000 (2014 EUD). L2 users: 250,000 (2013 K. Crombie Smith).



Language Status

5 (Developing).


Scottish Sign Language, Welsh Sign Language, Northern Ireland Sign Language (BSL-NI, NISL). Deaf community is cohesive so communication is good despite variation in different parts of the United Kingdom (e.g. Scotland, Wales, with more divergence in Northern Ireland, especially among older signers (Parks and Parks 2012)). 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. Not inherently intelligible to users of American Sign Language (ASL) [ase], although Northern Ireland variety shows significant influence from ASL. Many structural and lexical 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).


Two-handed fingerspelling.

Language Use

Vigorous. 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 1760. Used by all. Used as L2 by Irish Sign Language [isg].

Language Development

TV. Videos. Dictionary. Grammar. Bible portions: 2011–2014. Agency: British Deaf Association (BDA).


Unwritten documents [Zxxx].

Other Comments

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

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