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7 Fun Facts about Sign Language

Updated: Nov 11, 2021

There are many interesting facts about sign language: its origins in France; the vast number of signed languages internationally; interpreters and their pay; and its impact on the sports world. No doubt about it, there is nothing boring about sign language!

1) American Sign Language (ASL) stems from the Old French Sign Language (OFSL), back from the mid-18th century. Abbé de l’Épée, a cleric from Paris witnessed two young girls signing to each other, and he realized that this language could be used to educate deaf children (as at the time nobody really paid any attention to the deaf). Sign language was born. Today, French Sign Language and ASL are still the most similar of all the signed languages.

2) There are 300 different sign languages with actually only 130 that are recognized worldwide. These variations include: Italian, Chinese, Japanese, German and Korean. Internationally, the most commonly used sign languages are American Sign Language (ASL), British Sign Language (BSL) and French Sign Language (FSL). Signed languages are the most organic of human languages. They evolved naturally whenever and wherever a group of people with hearing impairments needed to communicate. Signed languages are fully capable of the same complexity as spoken languages. Signed and spoken languages are complex linguistic systems that differ in where and how they are expressed and understood. The fact is that sign language accesses similar brain structures as spoken languages.

3) Did you know that over 70 million deaf people use sign languages as their preferred communication form? And, over 150 million people worldwide simply use sign language to engage with family and friends with speech and hearing challenges. The number of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals in the United States is about 3.6% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 11.8 million people. Anywhere from 500,000 to two million people speak American Sign Language (ASL). It’s the fifth most-used language in the United States behind Spanish, Italian, German and French. In fact, some three dozen states give high school credit for students taking ASL courses as a foreign language. Science has proven that learning a second language can actually increase the size of your brain, improve communication and cognition and delay the onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

4) With so many people using sign language, there is a big need for interpreters. Currently, there are only 2,300 sign language interpreters here in the U.S.

Of those, 68% are women and 25% male, with the average age of about 44 years old. It pays about $48,500 per year, with men making an inequitable higher amount than women. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for deaf interpreters is growing; through 2028, the need for interpreters is expected to increase by 19%. Possibly a career option for some readers? Maybe some future interpreters can right the boat on pay!

5) Sign language is based on the idea that sight is the most useful tool a deaf person has to communicate and receive information. Sign language doesn’t only use signs to communicate. It uses facial expression, hand movement and position, gestures and body language to communicate. Just as with other languages, specific ways of expressing ideas in ASL vary as much as ASL users themselves do. ASL also changes regionally, just as certain English words are spoken differently in different parts of the country. Ethnicity, age, and gender are a few more factors that affect ASL usage and contribute to its variety.

6) According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic health condition facing older adults. As the population ages and the incidence of hearing loss increases, sign language becomes more and more relevant – especially in emergency situations when communicating with someone who is deaf or hard of hearing is critical.

7) Now for a really fun fact- baseball fans might be interested to know that the signals baseball players use to communicate with each other are the result of a deaf baseball player by the name of William “Dummy” Hoy who played for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1900s. Since umpires shouted all the calls at that time, Dummy and his third-base coach worked out a series of signals to communicate balls and strikes. The practice caught on and soon became common use among players, managers and umpires. Over time, every major sport started using some type of sign language. Not only does it keep the other team guessing, it also provides a great way to communicate strategy.

With all this said, sign language is a fascinating, useful and beautiful language. Time to learn some signs!

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