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British Sign Language

British Sign Language

British Sign Language (BSL) is the sign language used in the United Kingdom (UK). BSL is the first or preferred language of nearly 250,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the UK. It is a language of space and movement using the hands, body, face and head. Many thousands of hearing people also use BSL.

Although the United Kingdom and the United States share English as the predominant spoken language, British Sign Language is distinct from American Sign Language (ASL). BSL fingerspelling is also different from ASL as it uses two hands instead of one. BSL is also distinct from Irish Sign Language (ISL) (ISG in the ISO system) which is more closely related to French Sign Language (LSF) and ASL. Both BSL and ISG are used in Northern Ireland. It is also distinct from Signed English, a manually coded method expressed to represent the English language.

BSL has what could loosely be termed 'accents' or dialects. Signs used in Scotland, for example, may not always be understood in the South of England, and vice versa. Some signs are even more local, occurring only in certain towns or cities. Likewise, some may go in or out of fashion, or evolve over time, just as terms in spoken languages do.

The sign languages used in Australia and New Zealand, Auslan and New Zealand Sign Language, evolved largely from 19th Century BSL, and all retain the same manual alphabet, grammar, and similar lexicon. BSL, Auslan and NZSL together may be called BANZSL. Makaton, a communication system for people with cognitive impairments or other communication difficulties, was originally developed with signs borrowed from British Sign Language.

BSL users campaigned to have BSL recognised on a similar level to Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, and Irish. BSL was recognised as an official British language by the UK government on 18 March 2003, but it has no legal protection. In New Zealand, New Zealand Sign Language has joined English and Maori to become that country's third official language.

Many British television channels broadcast programmes with in-vision signing, using BSL, as well as specially made programmes aimed mainly at deaf people such as the BBC's See Hear and Channel 4's VEE-TV.