WFD released a statement on the standardization of sign languages

On the first day of the 2nd International Conference on the Linguistic Rights of Deaf People, WFD President, Mr Colin Allen announced the World Federation of the Deaf’s (WFD) Statement on Standardized Sign Language. The WFD Board adopted the statement after being concerned about attempts to “standardize” sign languages in some countries. Often, language standardisation takes the form of deciding on one single word or one sign for a concept and as a result, the natural variation of the language is ignored.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) article 21 (e) obliges states parties to recognize and promote the use of sign languages. In the spirit of the CRPD, sign languages should be promoted in the form that they are used by Deaf Communities around the world.

The coordinator of the WFD Expert Group on Sign Language, Dr Robert Adam said “All languages of course allow for the same thing to be said in different words/signs. Variation is a natural feature of both sign languages and spoken languages, and this is an important part of any language research.”

The WFD believes that any sign language work should reflect all the varieties used by a language community. Therefore, sign language dictionary work should always document all the different signs and their variations that deaf people in a community or area use. It is not advisable to pick only one sign for one word when documenting sign languages. The WFD therefore does not support formal standardization activities related to any sign language, but supports appropriately qualified linguistic research into and documentation of all sign languages in the world.