British Sign Language (BSL) is the sign language used in the United Kingdom (UK) and is the first, or preferred, language of some deaf people in the UK. BSL is a visual form of communication using hands, facial expression and body language which is mainly used by people who are Deaf. BSL is a fully recognised language and is independent of spoken English. There are about 125,000 deaf adults in the UK who use BSL plus an estimated 20,000 children. In 2011, 15,000 people, living in England and Wales, reported themselves using BSL as their main language. The language makes use of space and involves movement of the hands, body, face and head.
Many thousands of people who are not deaf also use BSL, as hearing relatives of deaf people, sign language interpreters, or as a result of other contact with the British deaf community.
BSL is used within the UK and is compatible with only two other countries in the world, they are Australia and New Zealand. Where it’s named British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language or BAZNZSL. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is the largest charity representing the 8.7 million people who are either deaf or hard of hearing in the UK. As a membership charity their aim is to achieve a radically better quality of life for deaf, and hard of hearing, people.
BSL has been in use for hundreds of years. The first printed account in the UK of its usage was recorded in John Bulwer’s “The National Language of the Hand” in 1644. Before that, in 1595 Richard Carew first recorded an observation of Sign Language in use between two Deaf people. In the Parish book of St Martins, Leicester, an account can be found of a wedding conducted partly in Sign Language on 5 February 1576. References to Sign Language are also found in the Bible and in Greek and Roman writings.
There are courses in sign language available, please contact a member of the project team to find out more information.