Introduction to Irish Sign Language

Irish Sign Language

  • ISL is the indigenous language of the Irish Deaf community. It is a visual and spatial language fully accessible to Deaf people.
  • ISL is an independent language with its own linguistic structure, grammar, syntax, and morphology. It does not follow the English spoken or written structure. For instance, spoken and written Gaelic does not follow the grammar or structure of English.
  • ISL is NOT a language based on gestures, mimes and signs on the hands. The lack of information about its linguistic structure has created some misinterpretations about its status.
  • ISL should be taught as a second language like French, Italian or for most of you like Gaelic in school.
  • ISL uses many non-manual features (NMF) in order to convey additional information. NMFs are extremely important and consist of facial expressions, eyebrow movement, movement of the eyes, mouth patterns, blowing of the cheeks, tilting of the head, flat lips, puffed cheeks…etc.
  • Signs are articulated in front of the signer from just above the signer’s head to the waist. This is known as signing frame.
  • Eye contact is extremely important when communicating through ISL.
  • Now, just relax and enjoy the course!

Before starting your course:

What is Irish Sign Language (ISL)? ISL is a visual and spatial language used by Deaf people in Ireland. ISL is an independent language with its own linguistic structure and grammar rules. It is not based on Gaeilge spoken language and it is not Lamh.

Why is ISL so important? ISL is the native language of the existing minority linguistic community in Ireland while English is considered the second language. Deaf people consider themselves members of the Deaf community with its own language (ISL), culture, history, literature and folklore.

Sign languages are national languages; every country has its own sign language. They are not commonly understandable but they might share similar linguistic structure and features. ISL is the indigenous language used within the Deaf community in Ireland; British Sign Language (BSL) is used in UK; American Sign Language (ASL) is used in USA.

Spoken languages have various dialects and accent variations due to regional variations. Similar to spoken languages, ISL has some variations such as regional, gender and generational. You may come across different signs used by Deaf people within the Deaf community for the same word or sentence. In this course, we will display only a small number of variations.

Timeline: Before 1950s, ISL was allowed to use in school but after 1950s, Oralism was then strongly believed and ISL was then banned. Deaf people were educated through oral language and Oralism was the main teaching method within the education system in the Deaf schools.

Can you imagine for example say ‘for’ or ‘four’ and trying to lipread? Sometimes it can be difficult to see the distinction between two phonetically similar words.

The influence of Oralism had an impact on Deaf people lives and their education. This is the reason why some Deaf people have a good level of English spoken language while other Deaf people might have a lower level of English.

Nowadays, attitudes are changing toward ISL and more teachers are encouraged to sign. It would give Deaf students better education.

Simple guide to watching sign video clips online

When opening a course unit including video clips, please wait a couple of minutes until all the video clips are loaded. This really depends on your internet connection.

Playing – Although we have ‘Play’ button on all of our videos, you can actually click anywhere on the screen of the video to start play.  Once the video is finished, you can play it again as often as you want to see the sign. Audio – All of our videos do not have audio as it is not needed for learning sign language.  The ‘Audio’ button on the videos does not work therefore cannot be used.

Fullscreen – If you want to take a much closer look at one of the signs – you can click on fullscreen button at the bottom-right of the clip screen.  See the picture below as an example:

IDC video guide

When you have finished watching the video in fullscreen, you can either press the ESC key on your keyboard or click on the same button to return to the page.

Please note: While you are in the fullscreen, to play it again, you need to press ‘Play’ button on the bottom-left of the screen as clicking anywhere on the video screen will not play.

Don’t forget to click Mark as Completed to show that you have finished reading this first part of the lesson.

Enjoy your first lesson here!