If you’ve made your way through “Part One: Understanding Sign Language,” I’d like you to imagine that I’m holding one hand over the other and giving a firm shake. (This means, “Congratulations,” in American Sign Language!)
But while congratulations are due, you might still have a few questions left, like these, regarding the different types of sign languages:
- What are the most common sign languages used in English-speaking countries?
- How do sign languages compare with spoken languages?
- What opportunities are there for sign language interpreters?
- How does someone become qualified to interpret sign language?
Part Two of this series was developed to answer these questions and to provide a more in-depth introduction to the compelling world of sign languages. Rightfully so, “Begin,” in ASL is signed by forming a “key” with your index finger and making a motion in your hand that resembles starting a car. Our destination is far away, but the journey is the best part. Let’s begin.
List of Common Types of Sign Language
American Sign Language (ASL)
These series frequently discuss American Sign Language (ASL) and for good reason — it’s the dominant sign language of the Deaf community in the U.S., and in parts of Mexico and Canada. In fact, it ranks no. 4 on the most common languages spoken in America.
ASL can be described as being its own intricate language that uses signs, made with the hands and body. ASL also uses different postures and facial expressions to properly communicate words and emotion of the language.
British Sign Language (BSL)
If an American visits Britain for a holiday, they may have a mix-up about what constitutes as “football.” But beyond a few minor differences, an American could easily navigate Britain by communicating in American English. The same cannot be said for an ASL signer. British Sign Language, or BSL, is used mostly throughout the United Kingdom. As you’ll find compared below in the graphics comparing English and British signed fingerspelling alphabet, American Sign Language and British Sign Language don’t share much beyond the usage of hand and body movements.
Signed English (SE)
Although Signed English isn’t a language, it’s an extremely important communicative tool. That’s because SE is used to teach and talk about grammar, for English reading and writing.
Sign Supported English (SSE)
Sign Supported English may be considered one of the easier English sign language to learn for hearing people because it doesn’t have its own grammatical
structure. Instead, SSE signers can use their own native tongue’s grammar structure, but with SSE signs. This comes in handy for hearing people who want to communicate with SSE. Additionally, SSE uses the same signs as British Sign Language.
Pidgin Sign English (PSE)
“With Pidgin Sign English, someone might sign most of the English words of a sentence and use approximately the English syntax,” according to NCSHHH’s glossary. A mixture of ASL and English, Pidgin Sign English (PSE) is used often by people whose first learned language is English or by people who learn to sign later in life. Even still, deaf people are usually skilled in understanding and using this language blend when communicating with someone who isn’t a strict ASL signer. Many people refer to this as CASE, Conceptually Accurate Signed English. Signs more closely resemble English syntax and are conceptually accurate.
Comparing Spoken and Signed Languages
It’s important to note that ASL isn’t simply the signed form of English. In spoken languages, different sounds — including word patterns and intonation — are the principal communicative devices.
But as with all sign languages, ASL was created with a different pillar of thought: sight is the most important communication tool, it is a visual-spatial language. Therefore, ASL uses a unique phonology — which in the case of ASL, refers to hand and body motions — grammar structure, syntax, and vocabulary of concepts. Originally, ASL was based on French, so grammatically it more closely resembles French than English.
Vocabulary of Concepts
As mentioned in Part one of this blog series, ASL uses a vocabulary of concepts communicated with hand signs, hand movements, facial expressions, and body movements. Usually, the syntax follows a subject-verb-object pattern, but patterns can vary depending on the speaker, receiver, and situation. And, as a refresher, ASL and many other sign languages use “fingerspelling” to sign the letters of the alphabet for spelling proper nouns.
The Importance of Body Movements
In addition to signed letters and concepts, body movements are also crucial in sign languages. In spoken English, body language can add nuances to words or sentences. But in ASL, these movements do even more by acting as “non-manual markers,” as explained by Dictionary.com below:
In ASL, the speakers talk with the hand … and with the face and entire body. The placement or positioning of the hands has specific meaning, as does the speed and size of the gesture. Body language also colors the communication. ‘Non-manual markers,’ such as eyebrow raising, body shifting, or head tilting can convey a lot of information.
As a matter of fact, facial expressions are so important that ASL receivers should focus on the signer’s eyes, hands and face, rather than focusing solely on the signs.
Slang and Sign Languages
Another common slang within the Deaf community is, “258,” which can be written (popular on social media, like Facebook,) or physically signed. This phrase means “very interesting,” because the hand shapes of communicating “258” are similar.
Moreover, signers can choose from a variety of synonyms in ASL to express themselves. “Ethnicity, age, and gender are a few more factors that affect ASL usage and contribute to is variety,” according to MedicineNet.
Opportunities for Sign Language Interpreters
American Sign Language is used by hundreds of thousands of people in the US and Canada. So, it’s no surprise that sign language interpreters are in demand. If you’re learning sign language to become an interpreter, or you’re looking to hiring one, take a look at the different types of certifications, first, to see which suits your needs best.
Most U.S. states have “quality assurance programs” for beginner ASL interpreters. Arguably, the most popular is the Board for Evaluation of Interpreters, or the BEI, established first in Texas. Today, the BEI is administered in about 13 states, including Michigan, and recognized in 45 states. BEI Certifications have different levels from 1 to 5 corresponding with the increasing difficulty level of the test and ability of interpreters to interpret in more challenging settings. This certification is also based on several categories identified by letter from A to K and described more in depth here.
Establishing National Standards
The Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf establishes a national standard for interpretation quality. RID certifications are also highly-valued because they verify an interpreter’s individual performance and knowledge. In fact, many states require interpreters to be RID-certified to provide services.
There are multiple types of RID certification, and therefore there are different requirements depending on certification type. While some certification types ask interpreters to pass exams, other types ask interpreters to submit documentation proving training and/or experience.
RID Certification Types
At the moment, the RID offers only the NIC certification, this is done in two stages. First a Knowledge Exam must be passed. After passing the Knowledge Exam, the candidate must apply for the interview and Performance Exam. However, the RID continues to recognize credentials awarded by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) and certifications previously offered by RID that are no longer available.
RID Code of Conduct
As with any established registry, the RID has created a code of conduct that all its professional must adhere to. “It [the code of conduct] brings about accountability, responsibility and trust to the individuals that the profession serves,” according to the RID’s website. Seven tenants maintain the Code of Professional Conduct, co-authored by the RID and the NAD, and include confidentiality, respect, and ethics as the core creed.
Finding Top ASL Interpreters
Contrary to popular belief, a great ASL signer doesn’t always equate with a great ASL interpreter. However, by hiring appropriately certified and credentialed interpreters, you can better guarantee a smooth, accurate interpretation process.
Luckily, all American Sign Language interpreters working on-site and via Video Remote Interpreting (VRI) with Bromberg & Associates have extensive experience working with the Deaf community and are nationally and/or state certified. Be sure to contact us and reach out to one of Bromberg & Associates’ qualified American Sign Language interpreters in Michigan or beyond for your next sign language project.