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Sign languages in the World Atlas: Our scholars meet linguists and deaf leaders at UNESCO

27 February, 2017

Our scholars met last week in Paris with deaf community leaders, linguists, and members of the UNESCO Secretariat to discuss the forthcoming debut of sign languages in the World Atlas of Languages.


Kang-Suk Byun, Hasan Dikyuva, Ulrike Zeshan and Florjan Rojba at UNESCO last week


Our director, Prof Ulrike Zeshan, and our associates Kang-Suk Byun from South Korea and Hasan Dikyuva from Turkey, advised the attendees about work at iSLanDS so far on researching and cataloguing endangered sign languages. They advised attendees about differences in the threats to rural and urban sign languages, pressure on minority sign languages from dominant or foreign sign languages, and the issue of policies promoting sign language standardisation. The scoring system for assessing the degree of endangerment for sign languages, previously developed at iSLanDS, was also explained.

World Federation of the Deaf board member Florjan Rojba from Albania situated the planned work in the context of the UNCRPD and the WFD strategic priorities in his presentation.

Alongside linguists from the Foundation for Endangered Languages, who also attended the meeting, UNESCO has been extending its Atlas, and the latest development will include sign languages for the first time, both those that are endangered and those that are still relatively safe.

At the meeting, the 12 participants shared ideas on the design of the new interactive online platform of the Atlas, and how to make it fully accessible to deaf communities. The inclusion of sign languages in a new UNESCO questionnaire that seeks information on languages from national governments was also discussed.

We are thrilled that the next Atlas will put sign languages “on the map” alongside spoken languages, and we are grateful to everyone who has contributed to this exciting and impactful work. 

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