common misconception is that sign languages are somehow dependent on oral
languages, that is, that they are oral language spelled out in gesture, or that
they were invented by hearing people. Hearing teachers in deaf schools, such as Thomas Hopkins
Gallaudet, are often incorrectly referred to as “inventors” of
are used in
sign languages, mostly for proper names and technical or specialised vocabulary
borrowed from spoken languages. The use of fingerspelling was once taken as
evidence that sign languages were simplified versions of oral languages, but in
fact it is merely one tool among many. Fingerspelling can sometimes be a source
of new signs, which are called lexicalized signs.
the whole, deaf sign languages are independent of oral languages and follow
their own paths of development. For example, British Sign Language
and American Sign
Language are quite different and mutually unintelligible, even though
the hearing people of Britain and America share the same oral language.
Similarly, countries which use a single oral language throughout may have two or more sign languages; whereas an area that contains more than one oral language might use only one sign language. South Africa, which has 12 official oral languages and a similar number of other widely used oral languages is a good example of this. It has only one sign language with two variants due to its history of having two major educational institutions for the deaf which have served different geographic areas of the country.