Sign Languages as Minority Languages: what are some of the issues?

It is a common feature of sign languages that they co-exist alongside a majority language. More often than not these majority languages are spoken languages (such as English, Finnish and other national languages), but in other cases these majority languages can be a signed language (for example Finnish Swedish Sign Language and Finnish Sign Language in Finland, or Australian Irish Sign Language and Auslan in Australia). This keynote will review some of the research carried out to date on minority sign languages coexisting with both majority signed and majority spoken languages, and refer to some of the language policy work undertaken (for example national legislation and international instruments such as the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities) in relation to these minority sign languages.


A Deaf native signer, Robert Adam is Director of Continuing Professional Development at the UCL Deafness Cognition and Language Research Centre. Prior to that he worked as a Research Associate at DCAL and undertook research into sign language in the everyday lives of Deaf people. Examples of his research include: Deaf people who are bilingual in two sign languages, Deaf people who work as interpreters or translators in the Deaf Community and other sociolinguistic research into sign languages. His doctoral research examined unimodal bilingualism (between dialects of British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language in Australia, Ireland and Northern Ireland) where language contact exists between different sign languages. He also received funding from the Endangered Languages Documentation Project at SOAS to document Australian Irish Sign Language (AISL) in 2016, and from the John Wallis Foundation to develop a web resource for AISL signers and their families.