All You Need to Know about Chinese Sign Language

The languages of the world are vast and are of a wide variety. Not surprisingly, those who want to travel the world and are keen to know about the different cultures opt for learning the languages spoken in these regions as a language itself is the compass by which one can gain knowledge of the place.

But one language that is of somewhat universal nature is sign language.

Sign language has been around for centuries, probably even before verbal language was being used to communicate. Certain cues and gestures established understanding between individuals, resulting in two-way communication. 

The Chinese Sign Language (CSL) had also been established to act as a means of communication between people, but mostly it was made to facilitate the deaf community. Here is a look at the evolution of Chinese Sign Language and its significance in the Chinese region as well as its role in the world of social media. 

CSL and the Deaf Community

The Chinese Sign Language has been around for a long time since the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-959), but it developed mostly in the late 1950s, with signs that resemble Chinese characters. It has various dialects with Shanghai being the most common. Although the first deaf school was founded by an American missionary, C.R. Mills, American Sign Language is very different from CSL.

The Schools and workshops in China for the deaf community contribute to spreading CSL. In other countries as well, CSL is learned in order to help the Chinese deaf people. For instance, in America, the Chinese National Association of the Deaf was founded by deaf people in the US to help improve the quality of living for Chinese deaf people. This organization still works to improve the welfare of the deaf community by encouraging the education and job prospects of the latter using sign language. 

A Look at the Evolution of CSL

The Spoken Chinese language is considered one of the hardest languages to master. This is why learners are confronted with four subtly different tones that are almost indistinguishable from the foreign ear. Not surprisingly, it is quite rare to find discussions on how it feels like to master Chinese without hearing the sounds and tones of Chinese, but for the Chinese Deaf community, this is the primary means of communication. 

Sign language is a popular method of communication amongst deaf people throughout the world. Take for example the British Sign Language, which, although is not so widespread, is still on display when a BSL narrator is commonly seen next to a television. Similar to BSL, Chinese Sign Language is a combination of hand and finger signals with emotional expressions that convey individual letters, words, and meaning.

CSL has been used by deaf people in China throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). In fact, there are historical accounts of how deaf individuals communicate with hearing relatives through a system of home-signs that expressed the concepts of daily-used words such as “bread”, “meat” and “fish”. 

These early developments marked the beginning of the spread of sign language throughout China till it was standardized. During the mid-20th century’s political revolution, the People’s Republic of China took steps to both standardize CSL and the curriculum of Deaf School. In 1958, a Sign Language Reform Committee was established to standardize and represent this language. As these signs were based on spoken language, many two-syllable words were represented by two signs instead of one to express a “question” or “interrogation”. 

Sign Language in the online world

The Chinese sign language has come a long way since its evolution and in the early years of the 20th century. Even though the development of the language has been slow, numerous organizations, schools, and institutions now exist in metropolitan areas and cities which follow the standardized rules for CSL.

In the vast world of the internet and social media, CSL is also slowly gaining momentum and social networking sites, as well as blogging platforms, are being used to spread awareness of sign language. Consequently, the online media platform is acting as a space for deaf people to interact with each other through online videos.

One huge challenge for Chinese sign language is the wide number of regional variations existing in cities and areas—even in neighboring regions, sign language is different. Recently, Weibo users have opted to use CSL to communicate if they find it hard to communicate in Shanghainese sign language, and there have emerged some examples of Weibo users who have used sign language in place of the Shanghainese sign language since they had less knowledge of the latter. Not only that, the CSL is now being used by the netizen community to interact with the deaf people across China and in other countries as well. Naturally, the Chinese online space is providing a ground for interaction and interest in CSL. 

Weibo is being used as a platform to reach out to deaf people. For example, a user “Pure White Meets Heaven Blue” advertises a CSL corner in order to help hearing people practice CSL with deaf teachers and for the deaf to interact with hearing people. Moreover, the deaf community is also active on WeChat, with accounts specifically made to share the latest news about CSL and education about sign language. The current patterns of social media indicate that there is a growing interest in CSL and deaf culture, with Chinese internet users expressing positivity and pride in the usage of sign language. However, it still remains to be seen how this ‘online positivity’ will help in the recognition of CSL in the real world.

The Last Word

The Chinese Sign Language is a unique language that is being used by the deaf and the hearing people in China to increase awareness. By looking at the current social media trends and the rise of online spaces, it can be predicted that the future of the CSL is bright and promising. However, it still requires constant support from the Chinese government and authorities in order to ensure that CSL continues to flourish and facilitate the deaf community as well as the hearing one in China.

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Antonia January 1, 2021 0 Comments