When people attempt to answer what is a sign language question, so many disparate answers appear. So what exactly is sign language?
It is a silent and visual language that requires the use of gestures and mimics made with hand movements. This language enables us to communicate with individuals who have partially or completely lost their hearing, whom we generally define as “deaf” or “hard of hearing.”
Sign language can sometimes be Confused with body language due to the frequent use of gestures and mimics. Yet, body language is a form of communication that consists of body posture, facial expressions, or eye movements and supports all these formations with mental and physical activities. This form of non-verbal communication may be the characteristic feature of the person during expression. Also, body language is not used necessarily for hard-of-hearing people.
Many places offer paid and free training in first and second level sign language. While the first level covers 120 hours of introductory sign language training, the second level encompasses 200 hours of instructor and interpretation training. It is crucial to note that if we strive to learn sign language efficiently, we should choose a child of Deaf adults (CODA) trainer whose mother tongue is sign language or a deaf or hard of hearing person.
We tend to think that sign language is universal. Yet it is far away from being a universal language. Each society or country has its own specific sign language as well as it is a formation created according to the societal customs, traditions, and culture. Within this frame, Turkish Sign Language (TİD), American Sign Language (ASL), and British Sign Language (BSL) may be mentioned. They vary from each other as Italian and Japanese.
The formation of each sign language in the world is viewed simultaneously with the establishment of an institution, namely, a school, that brings together the hard of hearing people. It is because people who do not come together through a Gathering of an institution cannot develop their sign language and create a common language alone at home.
The hand gestures used by the deaf people in France around the 1770s were considered a language with a grammatical component and started to be taught in schools. Later, this communication method was taken to the US by a French sign language Scientist, and the first sign language school, now known as Gallaudet University, provided training for deaf people and was founded by Thomas Gallaudet.
The history of the Turkish Sign Language can be traced back to the Ottoman period. The first school for the hard of hearing people, Yıldız School for the Deaf (Yıldız Sağırlar Okulu), was founded by Abdülhamid II in 1902. In this school, the Ottoman Sign Language, which constituted a priori infrastructure of today’s Turkish Sign Language, was used by teachers along with the verbal language. As it is in the written language, the sign alphabet used in this school was different from the currently used alphabet. Also, there is no indication in history that the sign language used in the West was not adapted in these schools.
In Turkey, sign language is not taught in schools for the deaf. However, teaching sign language to children does not downgrade their verbal language development whatsoever. On the contrary, the more children are exposed to languages at an early age, the more they can learn. According to recent research, language learning can be brought to a much earlier age, thanks to the sign language being taught even to children who do not experience hearing difficulties.
As in spoken languages, sign language should be learned at an early age. If the hard of hearing children cannot learn sign language until the age of 6, it will be difficult for them to learn both sign language and other languages later on.
Sign language consists of visual signs. Usually, words have a visual cue equivalent. However, some words do not have signs. For that reason, for those proper names, the sign language alphabet is used. For example, the name and surname of a person are written in this alphabet. In deaf and hard-of-hearing culture, there is the concept of a sign language name. This name allows the person to describe the name of someone well-known through a visual nickname instead of writing it in the sign language alphabet every time. In that sense, this name functions as a nickname derived from the person’s physical traits.
If you have a stitch mark on your forehead and you indicate it with your index finger in a special way, or if your hair is curly, you can indicate this with a sign indicating your curls can be your sign language name.
Sign Language, like other verbal languages, has its own culture and grammatical structure. When an uttered sentence is explained in sign language, it is not translated by putting signs instead of words as every word does not have a visual equivalent. Sometimes you may need to explain a word with three signs. That is why it is a language that has limited signs in which explanation of abstract concepts is more difficult compared to verbal language.
On the other hand, as it is a visual language, it is quite enjoyable to learn. Among many hard of hearing and deaf individuals in the world, around 3 million of them live in Turkey. Also, sign language is a common language than we think as the families, and friends of these individuals have to learn this language.
We can come across hard of hearing or deaf people in all spheres of society. It can be a hospital, a courthouse, or public transportation. It should not be Forgotten that we are all susceptible to becoming hard of hearing or deaf one day. In that sense, if we, as hearing individuals, cannot understand these people who communicate through sign language, we are also disabled. It is because while it is not possible for them to utter words, we can learn sign language.
Keep in mind that we should all learn sign language, it may be needed one day.