British Sign Language (BSL)

Authored by: Gary Quinn

The Routledge Handbook of Pragmatics

Print publication date:  January  2017
Online publication date:  January  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415531412
eBook ISBN: 9781315668925
Adobe ISBN:


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Many people believe that the hands are the focal point of sign language. However, many elements of sign languages such as British Sign Language (BSL) are conveyed through the non-manual features of the language. In other words, much of BSL is expressed in ways other than the use of the hands, for example, through facial expression and body language (Sutton-Spence and Woll 1999: 81), both of which make significant contributions to the pragmatics of signed languages. This is because signed languages use a markedly different modality to spoken ones. In a spoken language such as English, the modality is oral/aural, and this imposes certain constraints on how the language functions. By contrast, the visual-spatial nature of BSL allows for language to be expressed very differently (Stokoe 1960; Deuchar 1984; Brennan 1992).

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