Irish Sign Language


A language of Ireland

Alternate Names
Teanga Chomharthaíochta na hÉireann

21,000 in Ireland (2014 IMB). 5,000 Deaf and estimated 45,000 hearing L1 and L2 users (2014 DeafVillageIreland). Total users in all countries: 22,550.



Language Status

5 (Developing). Recognized language (2017, Irish Sign Language Act 2017), authorized for use and interpretation in courts, schools, and other public bodies.


Separate schools for boys and girls resulted in strong gender-based dialectal differences, but these have diminished with time. British Sign Language (BSL) [bfi] was formally introduced to Ireland in 1816, but references to signing go back much further in Irish history. In 1846, the Catholic nuns who established St. Mary’s School for Deaf Girls went to France, so contemporary Irish Sign Language includes aspects of nineteenth-century French Sign Language [fsl] as well as BSL, with influence from signed French, signed English, and gestural systems like cued speech. (Leeson and Sneed 2012).


One-handed fingerspelling.

Language Use

Several deaf schools. Government policy recommends bilingual education (National Council for Special Education 2011). Deaf associations. Committee on national sign language, and organization for sign language teachers. All domains. Used by all. Some also use English [eng].

Language Development
Literature. TV. Videos. Dictionary. Agency: Irish Deaf Society (IDS).

Unwritten documents [Zxxx].

Other Comments

Support for parents to learn Irish Sign Language (2014 National Council for Special Education). The name ‘Irish Sign Language’ (ISL) came into common use following the publication of a dictionary of ISL in 1979 and establishment of the Irish Deaf Society in the mid 1980s. (Leeson and Sneed 2012). Fingerspelling system similar to French Sign Language [fsl]. Christian.

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