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Sign Languages: A-HSign Languages: I-RSign Languages: S-Z
This is the "Sign languages of the world by region and country" page of the "Sign Language" guide.
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Sign Language   Tags: deaf, faq  

A collection of commonly-asked questions about sign languages, particularly American Sign Language.
Last Updated: Nov 22, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Sign languages of the world by region and country Print Page

Sign languages of the world by country

To see a list of these Sign Languages arranged by the name of the language plus bibliographic references where possible, see the page and subpages named "Sign Languages of the World, by Name," accessible through one of the bright-yellow tabs at the top of this page.

Derived from the Ethnologue database (, 11/8/01, "BROWSE THE WEB VERSION" link), with many additional sign languages, categorization, and much other information added by Thomas R. Harrington. Known now-extinct sign languages are indicated by "(defunct)."

Sign languages are divided into three categories:
DEAF SIGN LANGUAGES are the natural languages developed by Deaf people and used in everyday life. In many countries, the Deaf sign languages are barred in schools for the deaf and are used mainly outside the classroom and within the Deaf community. Often, particularly in developing countries, non-native Deaf sign languages have been introduced by religious missionaries and by educators of the Deaf who were trained in other countries. This explains the apparent oddity of finding, as just one example out of many, Norwegian Sign Language used by some Deaf people in Madagascar. Numerous other countries have had more than one foreign sign language imported. In many countries, in the absence of a unifying national institution or agency for the Deaf, different regional sign language dialects have developed in the areas around different schools for the Deaf.
ARTIFICIAL SYSTEMS that encode speech attempt to represent a spoken language in manual form, and are usually invented by hearing people, often borrowing signs from the local Deaf sign language but in the word order of, and following the grammar and syntax of, the spoken language. These systems are used for pedagogical purposes in the schools, and only rarely by Deaf people outside the classroom. Cued Speech, a system of manual signals to supplement speechreading, and the similar Danish Mouth-Hand System are also included n this ARTIFICIAL SYSTEMS category. So is the Rochester Method, which consists of fingerspelling everything in spoken English.
ALTERNATIVE SIGN LANGUAGES are non-Deaf sign languages, developed and used primarily by some groups of hearing people for various special purposes when speaking is not possible or not permitted, though those languages may also be used by Deaf members of that particular group.

Some sign language systems currently extant are not bound by the borders of any nation or group thereof; the following is a list of such sign languages.


    • International Sign Language = Gestuno
    • Home Signs
      • Not actually a language and not at all uniform anywhere. Home Signs develop where a deaf person lives in isolation among hearing persons, usually his/her own family, without contact with other Deaf persons and without access to education. In such situations, often the family makes up a set of crude iconic gestures to facilitate a basic level of communication on basic daily life functions. The resulting gestures have little or no correlation with real local Deaf Sign Languages or with local signed code systems, and one family's home signs are very different from another family's home signs due to this isolation.
    • Paleno
    • Streeter's International Sign Language
      • Not really a sign language but a set of 72 individual signs published in booklet form and offered as an aid to international travelers. It never caught on. A few Streeter signs are similar to their American Sign Language equivalents, but the rest appear to have been invented from scratch.
    • Worldsign

All 133 nations represented here have been divided up into regions, which are listed in a pop-up menu that appears when you hover over the yellow tab for this page ("Sign languages of the world by region and country") above.

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Prepared by Tom Harrington
Reference and Instruction Librarian
May 2007
Updated by Sarah Hamrick
Director, Library Public Services
December 2009
Updated: May, 2010

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