Sign languages are
- independent languages just like spoken languages
- as expressive as spoken languages: you can discuss any subject, recite poetry, tell a joke etc.
- created spontaneously in the communities of deaf people
- national, some countries even have several sign languages
At the first school for deaf people in our country in Porvoo, started by Carl Oscar Malm in 1846, the language of instruction was initially Swedish sign language, which soon diverged into two different languages: the Finnish, and the Finnish-Swedish sign language. Nowadays these national sign languages have been distinguished in the sign language act.
Sign languages are often called hand languages, but the facial expressions and mouth movements are also important. In some expressions the head position or movement as well as the whole body may be involved.
With sign languages the signs are units that correspond to the spoken language’s words, but sometimes it takes more words to express one sign in spoken language (such as Finnish) or vice versa. This is a familiar phenomenon also between spoken languages.
Signs consist of parts, which are
- shape of hands (position of fingers during the sign)
- position (on the signer’s body or in front of him or her in the so-called neutral position)
- movement (hand movement during the sign)
- orientation (direction of palm and fingers in the sign)
- non-manual features (expressions, mouth, head, and body movements)