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Great Britain, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Newfoundland and Labrador, Maritimes, Australia and New Zealand
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's sign language families
BANZSL map.png
  Areas where BANZSL languages are signed
  Areas where a BANZSL language is moribund

British, Australian and New Zealand Sign Language (BANZSL), is the language of which British Sign Language (BSL), Auslan and New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) may be considered dialects. These three languages may be considered dialects of a single language (BANZSL) due to their use of the same grammar, manual alphabet, and the high degree of lexical overlap. The term BANZSL was coined by Trevor Johnston and Adam Schembri.

BSL, Auslan and NZSL all have their roots in a deaf sign language used in Britain during the 19th century.

American Sign Language and BANZSL are unrelated sign languages. However there is still significant overlap in vocabulary, probably due largely to relatively recent borrowing of lexicon by signers of all three dialects of BANZSL, with many younger signers unaware which signs are recent imports.

Between Auslan, BSL and NZSL, 82% of signs are identical (per Swadesh lists). When considering identical as well as similar or related signs there are 98% cognate signs between the languages. By comparison, ASL and BANZSL have only 31% signs identical, or 44% cognate.

According to Henri Wittmann (1991), Swedish Sign Language also descends from BSL. From Swedish SL arose Portuguese Sign Language and Finnish Sign Language, the latter with local admixture; Danish Sign Language is largely mutually intelligible with Swedish SL, though Wittmann places it in the French Sign Language family.


  • BSL (sign attested from 1644 may not be BSL), with approximately 151,000 users[1]
    • Australian SL (1860. ASL and ISL influences), with approximately 10 000 speakers [2]
      • Papua New Guinea Sign Language (c. 1990), which is a creole formed with Auslan, used by 30,000 people [3]
    • New Zealand SL (1800s), used by approximately 20,000 people [4]
    • Northern Ireland SL (19th century - with American Sign Language and Irish Sign Language influences)
    • South African SL (somewhere between 1846 & 1881), used by perhaps 235,000 people
    • Maritime SL (c. 1860), with perhaps 100 extant users [5]
    • ? Swedish Sign Language family (1800)
      • Portuguese SL (1823)
      • Finnish SL (1850s, with local admixture)
BANZSL family tree
Old British Sign Language
(c. 1760–1900)
Maritime SL
(c. 1860–present)
Swedish SL family?
(c. 1800–present)
Papua NG SL
(c. 1990–present)
(c. 1860–present)
New Zealand SL
(c. 1870–present)
British SL
(c. 1900–present)
N. Ireland SL
(c. 1920–present)
South African SL
(c. 1860–present)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "British Sign Language (BSL) Statistics".
  2. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics (2013). "The distribution of Victorian sign language users" (PDF). Australian Bureau of Statistics. Archived (PDF) from the original on 7 March 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2016.
  3. ^ ISO request part 1ISO request part 2
  4. ^ "2013 Census totals by topic". Retrieved 2019-05-28.
  5. ^ Yoel, Judith. "Canada's Maritime Sign Language". Endangered Languages. Retrieved 10 February 2017.


  • Johnston, T. (2002). BSL, Auslan and NZSL: Three signed languages or one? In A. Baker, B. van den Bogaerde & O. Crasborn (Eds.), "Cross-linguistic perspectives in sign language research: Selected papers from TISLR 2000" (pp. 47–69). Hamburg: Signum Verlag.
  • McKee, D. & G. Kennedy (2000). Lexical Comparison of Signs from American, Australian, British, and New Zealand Sign Languages. In K. Emmorey and H. Lane (Eds), "The signs of language revisited: an anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima". Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.