French Sign Language family

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French Sign Language
Before 1850, Western Europe, and North America; today parts of Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
Linguistic classification: One of the world's sign language families
Proto-language: Proto-LSF
Glottolog: lsfi1234[1]

The French Sign Language (LSF) family is a language family of sign languages which includes French Sign Language and American Sign Language, among others.

The FSL family descends from Old French Sign Language, 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 seventeenth century, but it could have existed for centuries prior. Several European sign languages, such as Russian, 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 not directly descendant from it.


Wittmann (1991)[2] lists the following suspected members of the family, with date of establishment or earliest attestation:

French Sign Language (1752; may be different from Old French Sign Language)

and, perhaps,

Wittnann believes 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 SL rather than FSL that gave rise to Belgian Sign Language. Chilean Sign Language (1852)[citation needed] has also been included in the French family, but is not listed by Wittmann.

Anderson (1979)

Anderson (1979)[4] had previously postulated the following classification of FSL and its relatives, with derivation from Medieval monk's sign systems, though some lineages are apparently traced by their manual alphabets and thus irrelevant for actual classification:

  • Monastic sign languages (described 1086 AD)
  • "Southwest European" SL
    • Proto-Spanish
    • Old Polish → Polish
    • Proto-French (before l'Épée)
      • Eastern French: Old Danish (edu. 1807), Old German, German Evangelical (edu. 1779 Austria), Old Russian (edu. 1806)
      • Western French
        • Middle FSL finger-spelling group: Netherlands (1780), Belgium (1793), Switzerland, Old French
        • Middle French (dict. 1850) → French
        • American (edu. 1816; later including components from Northwest European SL's)
        • International finger-spelling group: Norway, Finland, Germany, USA
        • Old Brazilian → Brazil, Argentina, Mexico

See also


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "LSFic". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement." Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215–88.[1]
  3. SIL reports Danish SL is mutually intelligible with Swedish SL, which Wittmann assigns to the BANZSL family and other authors suspect is an independent family.
  4. 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