What is Sign Language?
Sign language is a visual-manual mode of communication that has its own grammar and linguistic structure which is different from those of spoken languages. It is not a visual representation of spoken language and does not relate grammatically to any spoken language. It also does not refer to miming or gestures alone, though it does incorporate these.
Sign language is a language natural to Deaf people and is important to their self identity.
Is Sign Language universal?
No. Many people have the false impression that sign language is a universal language. It is not. Each Deaf community around the world has its own sign language that is unique to them with its own lexicon and grammar.
Do we have our own sign language in Singapore?
Singapore Sign Language (SgSL) is Singapore’s native sign language that has developed over the last 6 decades since the setting up of the first school for the Deaf in 1954. It is influenced by Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language, Signing Exact English and locally developed signs.
SgSL is socially recognised and accepted by the Deaf community in Singapore and is a reflection of Singapore’s diverse linguistic culture.
Let’s look at the sign languages used by the Deaf community in Singapore.
Singapore Sign Language (SgSL)
SgSL is the native sign language used by Deaf people in Singapore. It is influenced by Shanghainese Sign Language, American Sign Language (ASL), Signing Exact English (SEE2) and locally developed signs.
Signing Exact English (SEE2)
A sign system which, as its name implies, follows English exactly in terms of word order and grammar. It visually represents spoken language on the hands and can be used simultaneously with voiced English. SEE2 exposes Deaf children to the English language manually and is used in classroom settings.
Pidgin Sign English (PSE)
A sign system made up of a combination of signed languages and manual English. It borrows many signs from signed languages such as SgSL, SEE, Shanghainese Sign Language and American Sign Language. PSE is used by Deaf people and hearing people to communicate with each other in both social and formal situations.
Do all Deaf people understand sign language?
Not all persons with hearing loss know or use sign language. In fact, some may also use speech and listening to communicate.
Other communication approaches and methods are:
Natural Auditory Oral (NAO)
This approach focuses on the use of the individual’s residual hearing through proper amplification. Through the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants, it aims to enable the deaf person to acquire speech and language in the same way as individuals with normal hearing, albeit at a slower pace.
Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT)
Another oral-based method, the emphasis is on teaching spoken communication via the development of listening (auditory) and speaking (verbal) skills. It teaches deaf children to use their residual hearing, aided by assistive devices (such as hearing aids or cochlear implants), to the fullest extent possible.
Speech-reading (commonly known as lip-reading) is a technique of understanding speech by visually interpreting the movements of the lips, face and tongue. It depends, too, on non-verbal information provided by the context, knowledge of the language, and amount of residual hearing.
Writing is a simple, straightforward way to communicate between deaf person and a hearing one.