Keep in touch: Sign language

keep in touch FINAL-01

Today we continue our digital exhibition ‘Keep in Touch’ with information about sign language. If you missed our last entry on the internet and mobile phones, check it out here.

Sign language

Sign language is a form of language that uses visual, body movements with hands to convey meaning, used when spoken communication isn’t possible. For many centuries it was incorrectly thought that hearing-impaired children could not be educated. It was not until the mid-18th century that the first educator of deaf children, Charles-Michel de L’Epee (1712-1789), a Catholic priest, developed a system for spelling out French words with a manual alphabet of hand gestures, expressing whole concepts with simple signs that became the French Sign Language[1].

KIT - Auslan

Auslan alphabet.


Auslan was recognised by the Australian government as a “community language other than English” and the preferred language of the Deaf community in 1987 and again in 1991. The earliest record of a deaf Australian was Elizabeth Steel – a convict who arrived in 1790 on the Second Fleet – although it is unknown whether she signed. The first known deaf person to introduce British Sign Language (BSL) to Australia was engraver, John Carmichael, who moved to Sydney in 1825 from Edinburgh[2]. By 1860, the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children was opened by deaf Scottish immigrant, Thomas Pattison[3], who helped support and teach sign language and braille to younger generations. Auslan has developed some distinct characteristics and signs since it first began to be used in Australia in the 19th century. Modern Auslan is evolving through the increased use of sign language interpreter services, secondary and tertiary education and in the delivery of government, legal, medical and media services[4].


‘Auslan sign bank’,

‘History of Sign Language – Deaf History’,

Get involved

  • For the kids: Can you sign your name? Use the Auslan alphabet graphic above to help you.


[1] ‘Sign language- communications’,

[2] ‘Auslan – History’,

[3]   ‘Our History- Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children’,

[4] Auslan – History’,

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