you're reading...
PUBLICATIONS, Structural and Cohesion Policies

Sign languages in the EU

Written by Magdalena Pasikowska-Schnass,

Please thank you sorry kid hand sign language on white backgroun

© wckiw / Fotolia

European Languages Day on 26 September is devoted to the variety of languages spoken by EU citizens. However, not all people can speak, or hear others speaking. Some use sign languages, which policy-makers consider in the context of the rights of people with disabilities, or as a linguistic minority right. The United Nations has launched International Day of Sign Languages, to be celebrated for the first time on 23 September 2018.

Sign languages and their users

Sign languages (SL) are not modelled on spoken languages, yet are languages in their own right, with equally complex rules, grammatical structures and vocabulary that evolve and vary by region, social and age groups; convey meanings and emotions; create social and family bonds; and meet artistic and identity needs.

Varieties

There is no universal SL, and the EU has a large variety of SLs, including a French SL in France, (a different) French and Flemish SLs in Belgium, as well as, for example, Catalan and Galician ones besides the Spanish SL in Spain. The United Kingdom, the United States and Ireland do not use the same SL; Ireland uses its indigenous SL, while the US SL, having been introduced by the French, has a lot in common with the French SL.

Nevertheless, there is an international system called the International Sign, a sort of lingua franca used at international conferences and meetings where participants do not share a common SL. It does not have a fixed grammar or vocabulary and relies heavily on gestures and context.

The users

One in a thousand persons in the EU (approximately half a million deaf or hard-of-hearing persons) communicates in one of 31 national or regional sign language as their first language. SLs have many more users, since people without hearing problems use them to communicate with deaf family members or friends.

Sign languages in the EU

Interpretation into and between SLs is necessary in communication between deaf and hard-of-hearing persons and other communities, or among themselves. Debates in the European Parliament are rendered in sign language for those Members who need it. Since the ratio of sign language users to interpreters varies among Member States, as does the quality of interpretation, in 2016 the EP adopted a resolution on professional SL interpreters, and backed the introduction of international sign language interpretation for all plenary debates.

The Erasmus+ programme has supported training sessions on SL interpreting and a course in quality in educational interpreting, co-organised by the European Forum of Sign Language Interpreters. An Insign pilot project, ‘Real-Time Sign Language Application and Service’ (on communication between the deaf or hard-of-hearing and the EU institutions, funded by the Commission), and a research SignSpeak project have investigated the potential of ICT in providing real-time interpretation into sign languages.


A study for the Scientific Foresight Unit of EPRS – ‘Language equality in the digital era. Human Language Project’ – analysed language technologies applied to human languages and their contribution to language teaching, learning, translation and interpretation. It identified the lack of multilingual data on sign language as a significant barrier for researchers in sign language technologies and for progress in this area.

In September 2018, in a recital to an own initiative resolution, the EP recognised that sign languages, being an element of Europe’s linguistic diversity, need to be supported by language technology. ICT solutions could be helpful in providing sign language interpretation. ICT is also seen as a factor for accessibility to audiovisual media services, in a recital of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive due to be adopted in plenary in October.


Download this at a glance note on ‘Sign languages in the EU‘ in PDF.

Discussion

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Ever wanted to learn a sign language? – Just Sara - September 23, 2018

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Download the EPRS App

EPRS App on Google Play
EPRS App on App Store
What Europe Does For You
EU Legislation in Progress
Topical Digests
EPRS Podcasts

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,745 other followers

RSS Link to Members’ Research Service

Disclaimer and Copyright statement

The content of all documents (and articles) contained in this blog is the sole responsibility of the author and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily represent the official position of the European Parliament. It is addressed to the Members and staff of the EP for their parliamentary work. Reproduction and translation for non-commercial purposes are authorised, provided the source is acknowledged and the European Parliament is given prior notice and sent a copy.

For a comprehensive description of our cookie and data protection policies, please visit Terms and Conditions page.

Copyright © European Union, 2014-2018. All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: