Providence Island Sign Language

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Providence Island Sign Language
Native to Colombia
Region Providence Island
Native speakers
19 deaf  (1986)[1]
Known by the majority of the 2,500–3,000 population
Language codes
ISO 639-3 prz

Providence Island Sign Language (also known as "Providencia Sign Language") is a village sign language of the small island community of Providence Island in the Western Caribbean, off the coast of Nicaragua but belonging to Colombia. The island is about 15 square miles (39 km2) and the total population is about 5000, of which an unusual proportion are deaf (5 in 1,000).[2]

It is believed that the sign language emerged in the late 19th or early 20th century. Brief sociological studies have suggested that deaf people on the island are regarded as inferior in mental ability; hearing people do not discuss complex ideas with them, and they hold a marginalized social position. Perhaps consequently, PISL is rather simplistic in comparison to other sign languages. Another possibility for the state of the language is that few deaf people communicate directly, meaning that almost all signing is mediated by the hearing population.[3]

External links[edit]


  • Woodward, James. Attitudes toward deaf people on Providence Island, Journal article in: Sign Language Studies 7:18 (1978), pp. 49–68
  • Woodward, James. Sign languages — Providence Island, in Gallaudet encyclopedia of deaf people and deafness. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987., vol.3, pp. 103–104.
  • Washabaugh, William; Woodward,James; DeSantis, Susan (1978): "Providence Island Sign: A Context-Dependent Language". In: Anthropological Linguistics, vol. 20, 95-109.
  1. ^ Providence Island Sign Language at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Lattig MC, Gelvez N, Plaza SL, Tamayo G, Uribe JI, Salvatierra I, Bernal JE, Tamayo ML (2008). "Deafness on the island of Providencia - Colombia: different etiology, different genetic counseling.". Genetic Counseling 19 (4): 403–12. PMID 19239084. 
  3. ^ Meir, Sandler, Padden, & Aronoff, (to appear). "Emerging sign languages." In Marschark & Spencer, eds., Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education.