French Sign Language
Before 1850, Western Europe, and North America; today parts of Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Linguistic classificationOne of the world's sign language families
Early form

The French Sign Language (LSF, from langue des signes française) or Francosign family is a language family of sign languages which includes French Sign Language and American Sign Language.

The LSF family descends from Old French Sign Language (VLSF), which developed among the deaf community in Paris. The earliest mention of Old French Sign Language is by the abbé Charles-Michel de l'Épée in the late 18th century, but it could have existed for centuries prior. Several European sign languages, such as Russian Sign Language, derive from it, as does American Sign Language, established when French educator Laurent Clerc taught his language at the American School for the Deaf. Others, such as Spanish Sign Language, are thought to be related to French Sign Language even if they are not directly descendent from it.

Language family tree

Anderson (1979)

Anderson (1979)[1] postulated the following classification of LSF and its relatives, with derivation from Medieval monks' sign systems, though some lineages are apparently traced by their manual alphabets and thus irrelevant for actual classification:

Wittmann (1991) and later research

Map of languages in the French Sign Language family, in Europe and the Maghreb.

Henri Wittmann (1991)[2][3] has been influential in scholarly attempts at constructing the French Sign Language family tree. He listed most of the following suspected members of the family, with date of establishment or earliest attestation. Subsequent scholarly research has confirmed most of his conclusions, but rejected others and expanded the family tree with new branches, while removing others.

Post-1991 modifications

Wittnann believed Lyons Sign Language, Spanish Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, and Venezuelan Sign Language, which are sometimes counted in the French family, had separate origins, though with some contact through stimulus diffusion, and it was Lyons rather than French Sign Language that gave rise to Belgian Sign Language. Chilean Sign Language (1852) has also been included in the French family but is not listed by Wittmann.[citation needed] Hawaiian Pidgin Sign Language (with possible local admixture) turned out to be an isolate, unrelated to French, American, or any other Sign Language.[citation needed] J. Albert Bickford concluded that there was 'no substantive evidence that the [Lyons Sign Language] ever existed' and retired it from Ethnologue in 2017.[7]

French Sign Language family tree
Old French Sign Language
(influenced by l'Epée c. 1760–89)
Belgian Sign Language
(c. 1790–2000)
Austro-Hungarian Sign Language
(c. 1780–1920)
American Sign Language
(c. 1820–present)
French Sign Language
(c. 1790–present)
French Belgian Sign Language
(c. 1970–present)
Flemish Sign Language
(c. 1970–present)
Dutch Sign Language
(c. 1790–present)
Italian Sign Language
(c. 1830–present)

See also


  1. ^ Lloyd Anderson & David Peterson, 1979, A comparison of some American, British, Australian, and Swedish signs: evidence on historical changes in signs and some family relationships of sign languages
  2. ^ Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement." Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215–88.[1]
  3. ^ Reagan, Timothy (2019). Linguistic Legitimacy and Social Justice. Palgrave Mcmillan. pp. 138–141. ISBN 9783030109677. Retrieved 22 April 2020.
  4. ^ Hollman, Liivi (2016). "Colour terms, kinship terms and numerals in Estonian Sign Language". Semantic Fields in Sign Languages: Colour, Kinship and Quantification. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG. pp. 41–72. ISBN 9781501503429. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  5. ^ SIL reports that it is mutually intelligible with Swedish Sign Language, which Wittmann assigns to the BANZSL family and other authors suspect is an independent family.
  6. ^ McCaskill, Carolyn, Ceil Lucas, Robert Bayley, and Joseph Hill. 2011. The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press. ISBN 978-1-56368-489-0.
  7. ^ Bickford, J. Albert (2017-03-09). "Request Number 2017-013 for Change to ISO 639-3 Language Code" (PDF). SIL International. Retrieved 2019-01-06.