American Sign Language (ASL) and British Sign Language (BSL) are two distinct sign languages used by deaf communities in the United States and Britain respectively.
Both ASL and BSL are visual-gestural languages that utilize signs made with the hands, facial expressions, body language, and other movements to communicate meaning.
While both share similarities such as common grammatical structures and non-manual components, like facial expressions, there are many fundamental differences between them.
So what makes these two sign languages different?
Difference Between ASL and BSL
As the names suggest, ASL is primarily used in the United States, while BSL is primarily used in England.
There are some slight differences in hand shapes and facial expressions.
With ASL, the hands usually move from side-to-side or away from the body’s center line, while BSL moves around more circularly or up and down. Handshapes also play an important role as they can help distinguish individual words and phrases.
Many signs have been adapted over time to fit new technology or modern concepts such as emailing someone or taking a selfie.
ASL originated in the United States, while BSL is a British language that has evolved as it was taught and used by members of the deaf community in Britain.
ASL has been influenced by French Sign Language (LSF) and Native American sign languages, whereas BSL is derived from a combination of LSF, Old British Sign Language (OBSL), and Signed English.
The difference in origin means that ASL and BSL have developed in different directions. This has resulted in some distinct differences between the two languages, such as their structure, grammar, and vocabulary.
For example, ASL has a more structured format and vocabulary than BSL; it also uses facial expressions to convey meaning as well as hand gestures, while BSL does not. Additionally, ASL is more likely to use “signs” that include both hands, whereas BSL mainly consists of one-handed signs.
Alphabet System & Fingerspelling
ASL has a one-handed alphabet that consists of 26 handshapes that represent each letter of the alphabet.
BSL, on the other hand, relies on finger spelling for words that are not part of its lexicon.
ASL and BSL differ in their use of fingerspelling; while ASL employs it extensively, BSL mainly reserves its utilization for proper nouns such as names or places. If a signer doesn’t have an individualized set of hand motions to represent themself, they can simply create one using the first letter(s) of their name.
Sign languages are so much more than just waving your hands around – there are grammar rules, vocabularies full of colloquialisms…the list goes on.
Another difference is in grammar. ASL uses a topic-comment structure, while BSL follows a subject-verb-object order. This difference means that when signing in ASL, one must start with the topic before proceeding to provide any details about it. In contrast, BSL sentences typically follow a logical order which makes them easier to understand.
ASL also doesn’t have the same concept of verb tenses as BSL does. Instead, ASL utilizes a range of facial expressions and gestures to help convey past, present, and future tense. This difference can make ASL more difficult for newcomers to learn, since they don’t have the same context clues that they would in a language like English.
Finally, ASL has what is known as ‘classifiers’ which are used to describe people and objects. These classifiers take the place of nouns and can be used to indicate size, shape, movement, and many other characteristics. BSL does not use classifiers in the same way that ASL does, which means that it can be more difficult to accurately describe people and objects in BSL.
Both languages use non-manual signals but they are used differently in each language. ASL tends to rely heavily on facial expressions while BSL relies more on body movements and handshapes.
For example, in ASL, a raised eyebrow or smile can convey emotion, whereas in BSL, the way the hands move may be more important. In addition, there are cultural differences associated with non-manual signals that make it difficult for people from one language to understand the other.
In ASL, certain facial expressions such as lip pursing may have different meanings than they do in BSL. This difference can be confusing and may lead to misunderstandings between signers of each language.
Finally, both languages use space differently when signing; ASL users tend to spread out their signs while in BSL signs move closer together as if they were part of a pattern or dance.
Sign languages can be as diverse and varied in terms of dialects as spoken language. BSL is a great example – it manages to bridge three countries, each with its own culture and traditions; Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.
In this way, signers from these far-flung places can communicate seamlessly through one unified form. Dialects of this language can be further divided into regional, ethnic, and generational characteristics.
On the other hand, ASL is more homogeneous than BSL and is used across the United States, with minor adjustments based on location. ASL also has a distinct difference from its surrounding neighbors – notably Canada and parts of Central America.
Overall, American sign language and British sign language are very different languages, but they both serve an important purpose for their respective deaf communities by providing a way to communicate with ease and clarity.
Knowing the difference between them can certainly be helpful for anyone looking to learn or use either one of these languages.