We often blog about different commemorative events, anniversaries, and holidays, with a particular focus on their legal and cultural history and on items in our collection. I thought I would add to this collection of posts by highlighting New Zealand Sign Language Week – taking place this week, May 2-8.
New Zealand Sign Language is one of the official languages of New Zealand – the other two are English and Māori. This is the result of the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006, which declares it to be an official language, as well as stating that people for whom New Zealand Sign Language is their first or preferred language have the right to use it in legal proceedings.
I was aware that there are many sign languages around the world – but I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of this, or that there are significant differences in the sign languages used in some English-speaking countries. For example, New Zealand Sign Language is quite different from American Sign Language. Apparently American Sign Language is more closely related to French Sign Language, rather than to British Sign Language, from which the Australian and New Zealand versions evolved. There may be regional variations within countries as well. Each sign language went through its own process of development and may may reflect various influences. For example, New Zealand sign language incorporates some Māori words or concepts.
I took a look at our catalog to see what books we hold relating to sign language and the law – and of course there are several! For example, there is a book called “Interpreting in Legal Settings,” one on “Language and the Law in Deaf Communities,” as well as an American Sign Language legal dictionary. I would love to learn more about the similarities and differences between sign languages around the world, including how they are treated under the laws of different countries. Please feel free to share your knowledge or any questions with us!