Sign Language at a World Jamboree


This article appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Abilities Digest

In the United States, there are different ways to communicate in sign language: ASL, (American Sign Language), SEE-II (Signed Exact English II) and PSE (Pidgin Signed English). These three communication venues are complex, but here is a brief comparison:

  • ASL is the only one considered an actual language with many facial expressions, fewer conjunctions, and more interjections. Its hand movements are less visually cluttered. It is an actual language with its own unique grammatical system.
  • SEE-II is the exact representation of each word through signs of grammatical structure in English, such as word order, tenses, and word endings. It is not considered a language at all!
  • PSE can be thought of as a combination of ASL and SEE-II, using ASL hand signs and a lot more fingerspelling than is typical for ASL. PSE oftentimes bridges the gap between a person who is deaf with those who may have been deafened later in life and continue to use the grammatical way of speaking within the hand signs of ASL.

Exploring ASL

At the 2019 World Jamboree, while on staff for Inclusion-Communication & Media, Charlie Hulse, a National SND Committee member, gave presentations for ASL, and the differences between English, French, and Spanish signs. The 2019 World Jamboree had three sponsors: U.S.A, Canada, and Mexico. These languages were representative of those used frequently in each country. “It was a great experience meeting Scouters from all over the world and visitors from the sponsoring countries,” Hulse noted. “What stood out about sign language were the differences between countries and regions for words and letters. I met people from several different countries that could sign. I was asked over and over, why sign hasn’t been standardized throughout the world. My explanation was to ask the questions as to why there isn’t just one language for the entire world, and which language would it be if so? My answer was simply that no nation really wants to give up the uniqueness of their language for conformity.”

Within regions of various countries, there are different accents and words that are not in other regions. One example is “soda.” Some parts of the U.S. say coke, pop, soft drink, tonic, Pepsi, Dew, and so on.

Between countries there are differences in the alphabet. One example is Spanish and English. The /ch/ sound, the double /ll/ sound, the /n/ and the rolling double /r/ sounds, all have unique signs in Spanish but don’t exist in English sign.

The French use different hand signs for the letters g, h, t, x, and z.

Great Britain uses two hands for their alphabet letter signs.

American Sign Language for toilet

Some sign words don’t exist in some countries. The sign for turtle does not exist in Sweden because there are no land turtles. However, there are sea turtles, which does have an existing sign. In some South American countries, there are no foxes so there is no sign for fox there.

A combo sign that is different between nations is “toilet”. If a country uses that word this is usually the sign for it; the alphabet symbol for “T” and twisting the fist. 

In Asian countries they use the term “water closet”. That sign is a combo of the alphabet signs for W and C.

“Growing up,” Hulse commented, “I learned to sign “I love you” as three separate words for that sentence.” Currently, at least in the US, the most recognized sign is on one hand combining the three words with letter representations.

American Sign Language for I Love You

The little finger represents I, the index finger and thumb represent the letter sign L for “love,” and the little finger and thumb as the “Y”….I – L – Y means “I Love You.” Use two hands and you have “Double Love You”. Cross the index finger and the middle finger (sign for R), keeping the ring finger down, and you have “I Really Love You.” Signing “shorthand” is fun and there are many of these short cuts in ASL.

Another interesting difference are the signs between ASL and Spanish countries for girl/mother and boy/father. Go online and check them out!

Hulse relayed a story he had heard of a hearing child of parents who were deaf. “This young man was immersed in a world of ASL. His first language was probably ASL. He could hear, but he understood and communicated in sign. His parents belonged to a bowling league in Ohio, with members who were deaf. One time they had a get together with a bowling league from Kentucky whose members were also deaf. He said at first, the two groups could not understand each other because the Kentucky group had an accent, but after about a half hour of showing each other their signs, they were able to communicate with each other. I was shocked to think that ASL would have a different accent between states, but several people have confirmed that there are regional accents when using sign.”

Most schools and colleges in the US offer ASL as a foreign language course. Different teachers show differences in gestures and facial expressions when tutoring ASL.

Sign is a beautiful way to communicate. Many parents teach their babies to sign so that they can understand the needs of the child. This method of communication, probably decreases the screaming and crying in order to be understood. As the child grows, signing is often dropped as the child begins speaking. However, one could continue to teach vocabulary and language structure. The internet offers several websites that can educate us, just as you can learn any foreign language online these days.

Watch this video comparing ASL and Spanish signs on YouTube (note that YouTube will probably play targeted ads). Now watch this YouTube video which shows us additional signs for Spanish words and phrases. Are there similarities to ASL?

Now YOU do some searches and have some fun! Pretty soon you’ll be able to answer the question, “What did you say?” in ASL or Spanish or French!