All About Spanish Sign Language from Spain and Mexico
Have you ever wondered if Spanish Sign Language is similar to spoken Spanish?
And do all the Spanish-speaking countries use the same sign language? Or is there a Mexican, Colombian, or Argentinean sign language, for example?
I promise that today I’ll answer all the above questions and more. I will also tell you why we are talking about Spanish Sign Language these days and why it is important.
You’ll also learn some basic expressions and the alphabet and I’ll let you know where to go to learn more!
Origin and Importance of the National Deaf History Month
You might have not known till now that from March 13 through April 15, we celebrate National Deaf History Month.
Why is it important? Why is it celebrated?
One of the main wins of the 20th century is the focus towards equality and recognition of groups that were once marginalized. Although there is still so much to do in all fields, most of us know by now that there are minority groups we must acknowledge and celebrate.
The same happens with National Deaf History Month. It is important to recognize and remember the contributions of deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
Keep reading to learn about how hearing disabled people communicate and about Spanish Sign Language. But first, let’s answer a very important question: what is sign language?
What is Sign Language?
Sign language is the language that deaf people use to communicate with other deaf people or with anybody who may know the language. How does it work?
Sign language is a combination of manual movements, moving your hands and arms, and non-manual elements, which are: body movements, or moving your head, eyebrows, eyes, cheeks, and mouth.
Manual movements and non-manual elements communicate different categories of information:
- grammatical structures
- discourse function
- and parts of speech
Have you ever seen a sign language interpreter in action? Lately, many of them have reached a star status for their passionate performances. But it’s simply the way deaf people transmit emotions, music, and exclamations—which are elements of communication that sometimes we don’t even realize how we transmit in regular speech.
One important thing that we need to remember while talking about Spanish Sign Language, or any other sign language, is that sign languages don’t depend on spoken languages. It’s a very common misconception that sign language is a spoken language expressed with signs.
Sign languages were created by deaf people that quite often did not know how a spoken language works. Still, some sign languages borrow elements from spoken languages, the same way as it occurs among any spoken languages.
The most common element borrowed by sign languages is a manual alphabet. It’s useful to spell out names of people and places and new concepts that do not have a sign element assigned yet.
Another misconception is that there is one universal sign language and that if we learn it, we’ll be able to communicate with deaf people all over the world. Sorry to tell you, but no. Every country has its own sign language, and some countries have even more than one.
However, the same way we speak about language families in spoken languages, we can speak about language families in sign languages. For example, Spanish Sign Language and Mexican sign language both belong to the French Sign Language Family together with Italian, Quebec, American, Irish, Russian, Ditch, Brazilian, Catalan, Ukrainian, Austrian, Hungarian, and Chech languages. Interesting, as these languages are not all considered related in their spoken versions.
Another interesting fact is that sign languages do not have a traditional written form. Some linguists tried to invent a way of representing sign languages in written form but they are considered more transcription systems than practical scripts.
Many deaf people use the written form of the spoken language of the country they live in, but it’s still a foreign language for them that needs to be learned separately.
Let’s go have a look now at two specific sign languages:
- Spanish Sign Language
- Mexican Sign Language
Spanish Sign Language
Spanish Sign Language is a language that deaf people living in Spain use. There are about 100,00 people that use Spanish Sign Language, and for one-third of them, it’s a second language and not their mother tongue. It is related to the French Sign Language family and you can trace its origins to the 16th century!
You probably know that Spain has more than one spoken language and that people that live on the Spanish part of the Iberian peninsula can speak Catalan, Valencian, or Basque language among others.
A similar thing happens in Spanish Sign Language. We can talk about Catalan, Valencian, Andalusian, Canary Island, and Basque Country sign languages. However, sign languages used in Spain share more than the spoken languages used in this country. Linguists talk only about a 10%-30% difference in the vocabulary used. Only the Catalan and Valencian sign language have more differences in terms of vocabulary, but still less than their spoken “counterparts.”
If you’re interested in learning Spanish Sign Language you can sign up here for free. You will pay only if you need an official certificate.
Mexican Sign Language
Mexican Sign Language is used by the deaf community in Mexico by almost 100,000 people. Same as Spanish Sign Language, it is related to the French Sign Language family. You’ll find more people using it in big cities, such as Monterrey, Ciudad de México, or Guadalajara, as it’s easier to get access to education in metropolia.
Is Mexican sign language similar to Spanish Sign Language? Not much. However, some linguists say that the Mexican sign language was at some point influenced by Spanish Sign Language. Anyway, it evolved separately from the Spanish Sign Language and it’s rather a combination of Old French Sign Language with local sign languages before 1869.
Mexican Sign Language has less vocabulary than Spanish Sign Language, and it rarely uses the verb “to be”. Most of the articles and pronouns are also omitted in the Mexican Sign Language but not in the Spanish Sign Language.
Mexican Sign Language is one of the national languages since 2005, together with spoken indigenous languages.
If you want to know more about Mexican Sign Language, you can watch this video: Aprende Lengua de Señas Mexicana en menos de 10 minutos
If you want to learn more, have a look at Compartir Signos, an interesting blog focused on Mexican Sign Language.
Let’s Celebrate National Deaf History Month
I’m sure that now you know much more about Spanish Sign Language, Mexican Sign Language, and National Deaf History Month. Are you going to celebrate it? Are there any events where you leave to recognize this part of our communities?
Let me know in a comment below!
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