Sign language is a combination of hand shapes, facial expressions and body movements.

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) is the natural language of the Deaf community in New Zealand; so it reflects the country’s culture by including signs for Māori concepts which can not be found in other sign languages or countries.

As one of the country’s official languages, more than 24,000 New Zealanders use NZSL daily. It is also the 12th most frequently used language out of approximately 190 languages currently used in New Zealand (Census 2006).

So why aren't other languages recognised in the same way? Other languages (e.g. Samoan, Tongan, Mandarin, Cantonese, etc) have recognition in their country of origin. Like Māori, NZSL is strictly home-grown.

There are hundreds of sign-based languages in use around the world, and even within a given language there can be regional dialects, for example people in Christchurch may sign something slightly differently to those in Wellington.

As spoken languages can be different from one region or country to another (e.g. English), so to are sign languages. American Sign Language, for instance, is quite unintelligible to a British Sign Language user.

Points to remember about NZSL

  • NZSL is a true and natural language that conveys information via a wide array of movements and expressions.
  • NZSL does not interfere with or reflect a signer's knowledge and use of English.
  • NZSL is not based on English or other spoken languages.
  • NZSL is not a universal "Deaf" language.
  • NZSL is not mime or gesture, as is used by professional artists.



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