New Zealand Sign Language


A language of New Zealand

Alternate Names

20,200 (2013 census), decreasing. Active Deaf community estimated 3,000–4,000 (2016 R. McKee). Marked decline across all age groups since 2001 (McKee and McKee 2016).



Language Status

6b (Threatened). Recognized language (2006, New Zealand Sign Language Act, No. 18, Article 6).


None known. Many structural and lexical similarities between British Sign Language (BSL) [bfi], Australian Sign Language (Auslan) [asf], and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) [nzs] and a high degree of mutual intelligibility (2003 T. Johnston, McKee and Kennedy 2000). Linguists sometimes use the name BANZSL to refer to them as a group, while still recognizing them as separate related languages.


Two-handed finger-spelling system derived from British Sign Language [bfi].

Language Use

Developed informally among deaf people at school and in deaf organizations. Used since 1800s. First school for the deaf established 1880 with oralist policies until 1979. All ages, but decreasing especially in younger age groups (McKee and McKee 2016).

Language Development
Dictionary. Grammar.
Other Comments

Interpreting services. Some use in schools; available as foreign language in two universities.

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