Legal Seat - Helsinki, Finland
WORLD FEDERATION OF THE DEAF
An International Non-Governmental Organisation in official liaison with ECOSOC, UNESCO, ILO and WHO
PO Box 65, FIN-00401 Helsinki, FINLAND
FAX: +358 9 580 3572
The Development of Sign Language
• Prior to the 16th century no formal recognition was made of sign language. Resorting to homemade signs
was the only way for Deaf people to communicate, until an Italian physician, Girolamo Cardano, tried to
develop some code of signs that never caught on. His work, however, paved the way for a new
perspective on Deaf people: communication WAS possible, and just because they could not hear didn’t
mean they were inferior.
• Spanish monks began to develop a standard set of signs, trying to form similar shapes to the written word.
• By the 18th century, in France the first public education of the Deaf was started, by Abbe de L’Epee. He
devised signs for certain functions of grammar. He taught Deaf pupils through writing, signing, and
• In the 20th century, Dr. William Stokoe, linguistic researcher, declared American Sign Language an
official language. Other research on sign language worldwide produced similar results; sign languages are
true languages with their own set of linguistic rules.
The Goals and Role of the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD):
1. To promote recognition of sign language and the right of Deaf individuals to use sign language;
2. To promote the right of Deaf children to have early and full access to sign language;
3. To promote increased support for sign language research;
4. To promote better quality of teaching of sign language;
5. To promote better quality of sign language interpreting;
6. To promote more availability of sign language in the media.
Sign Language Recognised in the Following Countries:
Brazil Finland South Africa
Czech Republic New Zealand Uganda
Ecuador Portugal Venezuela
Australia Denmark Romania Uruguay
Belarus France Russian Federation Zimbabwe
Belgium Some German States Slovak Republic
Brazil Greece Spain
Canada Iceland Sri Lanka
China Iran Sweden
Colombia Latvia Switzerland
Cyprus Lithuania Thailand
Czech Republic Mozambique United States of America
MORE ON BACK
SIGN LANGUAGE OFFICIALLY RECOGNISED BY THE GOVERNMENT:
• Sign Language is a pictorial rendition for the words of spoken language, a short cut.
• Sign language is universal, the same in every country around the world.
• Abstract concepts cannot be expressed in sign language.
• People can learn sign language easily.
• Education in sign language jeopardises the learning of the written language.
• Sign languages have complex rules of grammar and expansive vocabularies, and are
comfortably capable as vehicles everyday conversation, intellectual discourse, rhetoric, wit, and
• Sign languages in each country are found to have dialects, just as spoken languages do.
• In the United States of America, ASL (American Sign Language) is the fifth most used
minority language, after French, Spanish, German, and Italian.
• Some studies reveal that children can learn sign language 2-3 months earlier than they can learn
SIGN LANGUAGE AND EDUCATION
• Prior to the late 1800’s, sign language was commonly used to give a good education to Deaf
• In 1880, at a conference in Milan, Italy, hearing authorities made the decision to eliminate sign
language from the classroom and prevent Deaf teachers from teaching in European countries; at
the same time, American schools saw a similar fate as the number of Deaf teachers (47% of all
teachers in Deaf schools) went down to a single digit.
• In place of using sign language, nearly all schools implemented the Oral Method, placing Deaf
children’s education in the Dark Ages for 100 years.
• To this day, in spite of numerous studies showing that Deaf children learn best through sign
language, Deaf education has still not fully recovered from the blows dealt by the Milan
Conference and by the reduction in numbers of Deaf teachers.
• Sign language is different from other minority languages, in that it is a visual language- facial
expressions, body language and visual placements are all important components of sign
• Although Deaf people consider themselves (and research supports this view) a linguistic
minority group, governments and other institutions insist on labelling Deaf people as ‘disabled’.
• There are currently about 4,000 recorded spoken/written languages in the world- if more
countries recognise sign languages as well, this number would go up dramatically.
• Languages are the roots of culture.
PRESERVE SIGN LANGUAGE, SAVE CULTURE!
World Federation of the Deaf
PO Box 65
00401 Helsinki, Finland
FAX: +358 9 580 3572
(updated: October 2006)