Most people tend to think of British Sign Language (BSL) as a one size fits all kind of thing, but the variations can be surprising. Just like different regions in the country have different accents or alternative words for certain items, BSL is no different.


Contrary to popular belief, Sign Language is not international. Sign languages evolve wherever there are Deaf or Hearing Impaired people and they show all the variation you would expect from different spoken languages.


The progression of BSL is quite different now to what it was and this must be quite confusing to the older generation of BSL users. Similarly to developments within the English language, different age groups have developed different signs for the same things.


Regional variation in signing can be vast, with some deaf people admitting it has left them struggling to work out what others are telling them.


As with any language, BSL is an evolving language, but did you know that a signer’s class, age, gender, ethnicity, religion and locale can all affect the way in which they sign? This leads to many different variations within one variety of sign language alone.




1                                 2                                  3                                  4                                 5

Cardiff                       London                   Newcastle                      Bristol                       Belfast


Each of the above examples show just how differently the signs for the USA vary between different regions.


Researchers say regional variations that produced 22 different ways of signing the word “purple” are dying out, however despite the decline in variation, no one variety of sign has become more prominent than any other.


Television, telecommunications, the internet, and now also live music and entertainment events may also be playing their part, just as they have done with the English language.

The use of sign language in television programmes and on the internet has massively increased and deaf people have been exposed to signs in wider use, possibly leading to a loss of local dialects.


So whilst regional variations may be on the decline, we have to ask the question of whether the loss of these will inevitably help the BSL community become even more visible.


Due to the developments in BSL, we are always looking for BSL linguists to join our linguist community 


Victoria Holdsworth


Project Administrator