The Different Types of Sign Language Used Around the World

woman in white long sleeve shirt doing sign language

Sign language is a rich and diverse form of communication used by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Just as spoken languages vary across different regions and countries, sign languages also have unique characteristics and variations. In this article, we will explore the different types of sign language used around the world, shedding light on the beauty and complexity of visual communication.

What is Sign Language?

Sign language is a visual form of communication used by individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing. Instead of relying on spoken words, sign language utilizes a combination of hand gestures, facial expressions, body movements, and other visual cues to convey meaning. It is a complete and natural language system with its own grammar and syntax. Sign languages are not simply gestures or pantomimes; they are complex languages that allow deaf individuals to express their thoughts, emotions, and ideas with clarity and depth. Just as spoken languages vary across different regions, sign languages also have their own regional variations, reflecting the cultural diversity of the deaf community.

American Sign Language (ASL)

American Sign Language, commonly known as ASL, is one of the most widely used sign languages in North America. It has its roots in the French Sign Language and developed independently over time. ASL has a rich vocabulary and grammatical structure, with its own distinct rules and cultural nuances.

British Sign Language (BSL)

British Sign Language, or BSL, is the predominant sign language used in the United Kingdom. It is a visual-gestural language with its own unique vocabulary and syntax. BSL is not only used by the deaf community but is also recognized as an official language in the UK.

Australian Sign Language (Auslan)

In Australia, the primary sign language used is Australian Sign Language, commonly referred to as Auslan. Auslan evolved from British Sign Language and incorporates some regional variations. It is recognized as a distinct language and has its own grammar and vocabulary.

Japanese Sign Language (JSL)

Japanese Sign Language, known as JSL, is used by the deaf community in Japan. JSL has its own grammatical structure and vocabulary, which differs from spoken Japanese. It is an essential means of communication for the deaf population in Japan and is recognized as an official language.

French Sign Language (LSF)

French Sign Language, or LSF (Langue des Signes Française), is the sign language used primarily in France and French-speaking parts of Switzerland and Belgium. LSF has its own linguistic features and is distinct from spoken French. It plays a vital role in the deaf community in these regions.

Russian Sign Language (RSL)

Russian Sign Language, or RSL (Russkiy Zhestovyy Yazyk), is the sign language used by the deaf community in Russia. RSL has its own grammatical rules and vocabulary, separate from spoken Russian. It is an important tool for communication and cultural expression among the deaf in Russia.

Canadian Sign Language (LSQ)

In Canada, the primary sign language used is American Sign Language (ASL). ASL has influenced and shaped Canadian Sign Language (LSQ), which is commonly used throughout the country. LSQ has its own distinct vocabulary and grammatical structure, reflecting the unique linguistic characteristics of the Canadian deaf community.

Mexican Sign Language (LSM)

Mexican Sign Language (LSM) is the sign language used in Mexico. It developed independently and has its own unique features, separate from spoken Spanish. LSM allows deaf individuals in Mexico to communicate effectively and express themselves in a visually rich and culturally relevant manner.

German Sign Language (DGS)

German Sign Language (DGS), known as Deutsche Gebärdensprache, is the sign language used in Germany. DGS has its own grammar and vocabulary, distinct from spoken German. It is an essential means of communication for the deaf community in Germany, enabling them to connect with others and participate fully in society.

Brazilian Sign Language (Libras)

Brazilian Sign Language (Libras) is the sign language used in Brazil. It has evolved from French Sign Language (LSF) and has developed its own regional variations and linguistic characteristics. Libras is widely used across the country and is recognized as an official language, contributing to the cultural identity and inclusivity of the Brazilian deaf community.

South African Sign Language (SASL)

South African Sign Language (SASL) is the sign language used in South Africa. SASL has its own distinct structure and vocabulary, reflecting the linguistic diversity of the country. It is an important means of communication and cultural expression for the deaf community in South Africa, promoting inclusivity and fostering connections within the country.


Sign languages are not universal; they vary across regions and countries. Just as spoken languages reflect the diversity and richness of human communication, sign languages offer a unique perspective and cultural identity. The different types of sign languages discussed in this article represent just a fraction of the vast array of sign languages used worldwide. Each sign language is a testament to the resilience and creativity of the deaf community, providing them with a means to connect, express, and thrive.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are sign languages universal?

No, sign languages are not universal. Each country or region may have its own sign language with its own vocabulary, grammar, and cultural influences.

How many sign languages are there in the world?

It is estimated that there are over 300 different sign languages used worldwide. The exact number may vary as new sign languages continue to emerge.

Can sign language be learned by anyone?

Yes, sign language can be learned by anyone interested in communicating with the deaf community. There are resources available, such as classes and online tutorials, to help individuals learn sign language.

Are there similarities between sign languages and spoken languages?

While sign languages and spoken languages have different modalities, they share similarities in terms of grammar and syntax. Both rely on linguistic principles to convey meaning.

Is sign language recognized as an official language?

In many countries, sign languages are recognized as official languages, alongside spoken languages. This recognition helps promote inclusivity and accessibility for the deaf community.