Irish Sign Language

Irish Sign Language
Teanga Chomharthaíochta na hÉireann
Native to Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland
Native speakers
5,000 deaf (2014)[1]
45,000 hearing signers
French Sign
  • Irish Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3 isg
Glottolog iris1235[2]
The ISL Fingerspelling Alphabet.

Irish Sign Language (ISL, Irish: Teanga Chomharthaíochta na hÉireann) is the sign language of Ireland, used primarily in the Republic of Ireland. It is also used in Northern Ireland, though British Sign Language (BSL) is also used there. Irish Sign Language is more closely related to French Sign Language (LSF) than to British Sign Language, though it has influence from both languages. It has influenced sign languages in Australia and South Africa, and has little relation to either spoken Irish or English.

The Irish Deaf Society says that ISL "arose from within deaf communities", "was developed by deaf people themselves" and "has been in existence for hundreds of years". According to Ethnologue, the language has influence from both LSF and BSL, as well as from signed French and signed English, BSL having been introduced in Dublin in 1816.[3] The first school for deaf children in Ireland was established in 1816 by Dr. Charles Orpen. The Claremont Institute was a Protestant institution and given that Ireland was a part of the United Kingdom, it is no surprise that BSL (or some version of signed English based in BSL) was used for teaching and learning (Pollard 2006). McDonnell (1979) reports that the Irish institutions - Catholic and Protestant - did not teach the children to speak and it was not until 1887 that Claremont report changing from a manual to an oral approach. For the Catholic schools, the shift to oralism came later: St. Mary's School for Deaf Girls moved to an oral approach in 1946 and St. Joseph's School for Deaf Boys shifted to oralism in 1956,[4] though this did not become formal state policy until 1972. Sign language use was seriously suppressed and religion was used to further stigmatise the language (e.g. children were encouraged to give up signing for Lent and sent to confession if caught signing).[5] The fact that the Catholic schools are segregated on the basis of gender led to the development of a gendered-generational variant of Irish Sign Language that is still evident (albeit to a lesser degree) today.[6]

ISL was brought by Catholic missionaries to Australia and South Africa, and to Scotland and England, with remnants of ISL still visible in some variants of BSL, especially in Glasgow, and with some elderly Auslan Catholics still using ISL today.

The ISO 639-3 code for Irish Sign Language is 'isg'; 'isl' is the code for Icelandic.

See also


  1. Irish Sign Language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Irish Sign Language". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Griffey 1994, Crean 1997
  5. McDonnell and Saunders 1993
  6. LeMaster 1990, Leeson and Grehan 2004, Leonard 2005, Grehan 2008
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