Auslan is a sign language

There is no one sign language that is universal among all deaf people. Australian sign language (Auslan), like other true sign languages around the world, is not based on the dominant language of the society. Auslan has its own syntax and its own lexicon. It has its own way of organising meaning, just as any other language has. Auslan has grammatical rules, a semantic system and a phonological system like all other sign languages. Auslan is based on two-handed signs and incorporates a two-handed alphabet (fingerspelling). Around 10,000 deaf Australians currently use Auslan as their community language.

The evolution of Auslan

British deaf people who migrated to Australia in the 19th century brought their sign language with them. Over time, an Australian sign language evolved and developed its own unique characteristics. Like any other living language, Auslan continues to evolve over time, to meet the communication needs of deaf people.

The structure of Auslan

Sign languages use a variety of ways to convey meaning, including:

Learning Auslan

Many TAFES and organisations like the Victorian Deaf Society provide regular Auslan classes. A dictionary of Auslan, written by Trevor Johnston, is available. It provides a lot of information about the language and individual signs.

Where to get help

Deaf Australia

Learn to Sign

Things to remember

Want to know more?

Waleed's Thesis on Auslan in Computing setting...

Manual Alphabet:

The one handed manual alphabet is used throughout America and the Europe. It was developed in the seventeenth century by a Spanish philologist Juan Pablo Bonet.

A modified French version of Bonet's Spanish alphabet was taught by Abbe del'Eppe in eighteenth century Paris at the National Institution for Deaf Mutes. Graduates of this institution spread the one handed manual alphabet throughout Europe.

Laurent Clerc, a graduate of the National Institution for Deaf mutes was largely responsible for insuring that the single handed alphabet become the standard in the United States. He immigrated to America from France in the early nineteeth century in order to help Thomas Gallaudet establish America's first school for the deaf.

A different two handed manual alphabet is used in England, Australia, New Zealand, India, Indonesia and in other areas which have been influenced by Great Britian.

Fingerspelling is used in Sign Language for proper names, places, brand names, emphasising spoken words that have no sign equivalent. The manual alphabet is easy to learn and can be useful for sign language beginners for spelling out the words that they do not yet know the sign.

Once the manual alphabet is memorised, fingerspelling can be perfected by practicing with FastSpell! software and in front of a mirror. Like writing, right handed people fingerspell with their right hand, and left handed people with their left hand. Hands are held steady and comfortably at shoulder height with palms facing outward. Moving hands between letters makes fingerspelling difficult to read.

Useful tip: It is best to begin fingerspelling words slowly. It is more important to fingerspell clearly than quickly...

Deaf sign languages all over the world...

Each country has its own sign language consisitng of grammatical rules and structure similar to those used in spoken languages. Many of the basic handshapes found in the manual alphabet are also elements of more complex signs. Some signs are based upon gestures, movements, handshapes and facial expressions, while others are borrowed from fingerspelling.

Grammatical features of any widely used Sign Language include varying the location, drictional movements and orientation of hands positioned in specific handshapes. Facial and non manual expressions are important grammatical features. Much like phonemes in speech, handshapes are elements of what makes up each sign.

Fingerspelling and signing should not be confused. Signing uses space to communciate ideas and concepts. Learning to correctly identify handshapes can be very helpful in further sign language analysis.

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