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Sign Language - Sign Language in Spanish Speaking Countries

Mexican? Colombian? Peruvian? Venezuelan?


Updated June 13, 2014

What is Spanish Sign Language?

Looking for information on Spanish sign language? Sorry, you'll have to be a little more specific than that—just as the Spanish language varies from one Spanish-speaking country to another, so does the version of Spanish sign language used. Each Spanish-speaking country has its own sign language, e.g. Mexican Sign Language, Columbian Sign Language, etc.

Who Uses Spanish Sign Language?

Andorra, Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Gibraltar, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Venezuela are the Spanish-speaking countries of the world. In most of these countries, national associations of the deaf have published sign language dictionaries. Many of the dictionaries listed below were found on the Gallaudet Library page "Sign Languages of the World, by Name," and others were from the International Bibliography of Sign Language. Population data came from Ethnologue. Some countries are too small to have their own native sign language and are instead utilizing American Sign Language (ASL) or something close to ASL.

Andorra is a very small country between France and Spain with a population of under 100,000. One resource indicates that Andora has fewer than 5,000 deaf. I can not find any resources for a specialized sign language for Andorra. Belize is another small country, with a population under 300,000; its deaf population is under 15,000.

The article at About Deafness on Argentina's Deaf Community has resources on sign language in Argentina.

Bolivia has a deaf population estimated by one resource to be around 50,000, but under 500 users of a Bolivian sign language.

Chile has this book, but it is apparently not a sign language dictionary according to an About.com visitor: Pilleux, Mauricio, Cuevas, H., Avalos, E. (eds): El lenguaje de Señas. Valdivia : Univ. Austral de Chile 1991 - 151 p. The About.com visitor wrote that this book is actually a "linguistic analysis" of Chilean sign language (LSCh). The visitor also said "The subtitle is 'Syntax-Semantic Analysis,' and the book focuses primarily on analyzing LSCh from a linguistic point of view in the same vein of Stokoe and ASL. While there are a fair number of diagrams included, they are all used to demonstrate certain particularities, such as the existence of classifiers etc."

It appears that Colombia has a sign language dictionary: Royet, Henry Mejia, Lengua de Señas Columbiana, 1996. A search of Library of Congress holdings yielded another book, Diccionario de gestos. España e Hispanoamérica/Giovanni Meo-Zilio, Silvia Mejía, Bogotá : [Instituto Caro y Cuervo], 1980-1983.

Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a sign language dictionary, published by a ministry of public education's department of special education: Departamento de Educación Especial (1979). Hacia una nueva forma de communicación con el sordo. San Jose, Costa Rica: Departamento de Publicaciones, Ministerio de Educación Pública.

Cuba's sign language dictionary: Meneses Volumen, Alina (1993). Manual de lengua de señas cubanas. Habana, Cuba: ANSOC.

Dominican Republic
One resource indicates that while the Dominican Republic does have a sign language, it is apparently not well developed. An About.com visitor wrote: "I live and work with the deaf in the Dominican Republic. The Sign Language here, "Dominican Sign Language", might be called a dialect of ASL. I would estimate it is about 90% the same as ASL, but with a smaller vocabulary, and use of fingerspelling largely confined to names of people, streets, or places. This is true of the Sign Language all over the country. It is a small country, and there are regional differences, but they are not great, since there is plenty of interaction between regions."

Ecuador's sign language dictionary: Libro de señas: guia básica (1987). Quito, Ecuador: Sociedad de Sordo Adultos "Fray Luis Ponce de León," Proyecto "Mano a Mano".

El Salvador
According to a resource, El Salvador has fewer than 500,000 deaf. There is reportedly a Salvadoran Sign Language, but I am unable to find any resources. Bridgebuilders.org reports that El Salvador lacks a formal sign language system. At present, ASL is being used to teach Salvadoran children, but I expect that as time goes on, the deaf people of El Salvador will modify ASL to create a uniquely Salvadoran sign language.

Gibraltar is another country that is apparently too small to have its own sign language. The country's total population is under 30,000.

Guatemala's deaf population has been estimated to be as high as 700,000. There is a Guatemalan Sign Language, but I cannot find any resources.

An About visitor wrote: I have been working amongst the deaf in rural Honduras for the past 7 years, and there is a thriving beautiful sign language in Honduras indigenous to this land. The name of the language is Lesho, or Honduran Sign Language.

Due in part to the large Mexican community in the United States (About Deafness also has an article on Mexico's deaf community), there are quite a few resources available for learning Mexican sign language:

  • The Institute for Disabilities Research and Training, Inc. (IDRT) offers a Mexican/ASL translator program
  • Signing Fiesta offers training videos in Mexican sign language and English.
  • Sign language dictionary: Serafín García, Esther (1990). Comunicación manual. México, D.F.: SEP
Research has also been done into Mexican sign language:Nicaragua
Nicaraguan sign language is relatively young, having been developed only in the 1990s. A sign language dictionary, López Gómez, Juan Javier (1997). Diccionario del idioma de señas de Nicaragua, was published in 1997 by the Asociación Nacional de Sordos de Nicaragua.
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