What Is Australian Sign Language and Why You Should Learn It!

All over the world, there are a large number of deaf people who cannot use spoken language to communicate. Thus, this deaf community uses sign language to communicate. Sign languages are distinct languages that vary from country to country. For example, American Sign Language, Chinese Sign Language, Arab Sign Language, Indo-Pakistani Sign Language, French Sign Language, etc. Many even have their own dialects!

These sign languages are independent and distinct from the spoken languages. If you want to learn how to say hello in different languages, then we also have a very helpful support article for that too!

Australian Sign Language, colloquially known as Auslan (Australian sign), is the sign language in Australia used for communication by the deaf community. Although the name was coined in the 1980s, the language is quite a lot older.

As is the case with the other sign languages, the grammar, vocabulary, and attributes of the sign language Auslan are very different from spoken English. It is a natural language that has developed organically over time.

Auslan (Australian Sign Language) is related to British Sign Language (BSL) and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL). This is through common descent from the same parent sign language. Thus, they make up the BANZSL language family.

But Auslan has also received heavy influence from Irish Sign Language (ISL) due to historic Irish migration to Australia. In modern times, has borrowed many signs for technical and scientific terms from ASL (American Sign Language).

What Is Australian Sign Language Called? 

Australian Sign Language is called Auslan for short, a portmanteau of AUstralian Sign LANguage! This is a relatively new term coined by Trevor Johnston, author of the 1989 Australian Sign Language Dictionary.

Auslan has two major dialects. Queensland and New South Wales use the Northern dialect of Australian sign language. It  has more influence from the London English varieties of British Sign Language. In contrast, the Edinburgh Scottish variety of British Sign Language influenced the Southern dialect. Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia use the Southern dialect. 

There are significant lexical and syntactical differences between these two dialects. The signs for even common concepts like colours, animals, and days of the week differ quite a bit. Thus, speakers of Auslan can differentiate between the two dialects in just a few sentences.

However, despite all these differences,  the deaf community is  adept at bridging communication barriers. So, there is no problem in communicating between the two dialects. Thus, understanding the different dialects of the Australian sign language does not require any additional support. 

Components of Auslan

Auslan comprises a variety of different elements. These combine in innumerable ways to form sign language. The principal aspects of the Australian sign language include:

  • Hand Shapes - Auslan has 38 major handshapes, along with 28 variants, for a grand total of 66 handshapes in all used in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). These can be thought of as the Australian sign language alphabet, the basic building blocks of the language.
  • Orientation - The hand signs are oriented along four different sides of the body, with the hand and the palm facing different sides.
  • Location - The hand signs can also be placed in multiple locations relative to the body.
  • Movement - This consists of head, arm, and hand movements. These movements could be either small or also large, depending on what is to be conveyed.
  • Expression - This is as important as expressions are when speaking. It can have head movements, facial movements, and facial expressions. Intensity, emotion, and emphasis can be conveyed through these standard emotive expressions.
  • Fingerspelling - There is a two handed fingerspelling system in Auslan, (signed languages in other countries often use one handed signs). So, the fingers can be used to spell out a word for which there is no established hand sign. For example, Australian sign language basic words, names, and technical jargon.

How to Learn Australian Sign Language Fast and Easy

If you wish to learn sign language Australia, there are several community, technical and further education (TAFE) organizations and institutes to help you! Some examples are Vicdeaf, which offers classes in Auslan. The scholar Trevor Johnston also wrote a dictionary for Auslan. It forms the basis of the Auslan Signbank Interactive Dictionary.

There is no shortage of resources, such as books, video tapes, and even video calling courses! These provide one a lot of helpful information about the sign language Australia and individual signs. If you need something interpreted in Australian sign language Auslan, we also offer translation services in Australia!

How to Say My Name in Australian Sign Language?

Here is a quick visual primer to teach you how to fingerspell essential words and your name in the Auslan signing language:

Australian Sign Language

Status of Auslan in Australia

The Government of Australia recognizes Auslan as a ‘signed community language other than English’. It is the preferred language of the Australian deaf community, in policies passed in 1987and 1991.

However, Auslan is still not widespread in many institutions, government bodies, and professionals who work with deaf people. That is why, if you need to translate documents in Australia, we provide that service for people too!

We hope you enjoyed this article and found it informative, especially about the daily difficulties of the deaf populace. Australian sign language is just the primary medium. There are also several indigenous Aboriginal signed languages that we did not go into detail about. Keep watching this space for more informative and helpful content regularly. Thank you for reading!

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