Home signs – Sign Language Variations

Home signs sign language variations part 1Sign language variations (such as home signs) occur for many reasons. For the everyday average interpreting scenario, you should utilize a sign language interpreting expert.  Choose one in the local market (see our blog on hiring a local firm). When it is not a typical scenario, more time needs to be spent on an accurate interpretation.  Working with a Certified Deaf Interpreter (CDI) may be vital to ensure an accurate interpretation. (See our blog on a CDI’s for more information.) For the purpose of this blog, we will consider the D/deaf consumers who do not have the ability to communicate well and/or do not have a full understanding of American Sign Language (ASL) or English.

CDI’s Specialize in Sign Variations

It is not uncommon to find CDI’s in highly complex sign language interpreting scenarios when a D/deaf client does not have access to any specific language.  This is common in mental health or legal environments because those who commit crimes and those who have a mental illness may have less access to language.  Therefore, they may be less able to express themselves understandably. It is important to understand some of the sign variations regardless of the D/deaf consumer’s language acquisition background.  This way equal access can be provided for the most clarity.

Why create Home Signs?

Some D/deaf consumers may not have access to any sign language during their upbringing. Perhaps either the caregiver did not want them to learn sign language because they hoped one day they would read lips, or they were embarrassed by the look of a manual/gesture language. Or the caregiver may not have had access to a D/deaf school or a D/deaf peer who could teach the child sign language.  Maybe the caregiver did not know what to do about the hearing loss. They did not do anything because of the lack of access to information. Whatever the reason is, these caregivers and D/deaf children often develop home signs.

What are Home Signs?

Home signs are simply gestures that were developed inside of a caregiver’s home in order to communicate with the D/deaf child. They are not helpful for someone who does not know the gestures though they work well for family members and friends. For example, if a family has developed a gesture for “eat” that is different in ASL, then a sign language interpreter will likely need to ask questions to determine meaning. This process is complex since typically the sign language interpreter does not know any of the D/deaf consumer’s home signs.

Interpreting Home Signs

It may not work to ask the D/deaf consumer questions in ASL because there is no language in common. The interpreter will need time to decipher gesture meanings continuously until language can be developed. Once language is developed, and is consistent, then understanding can occur. This understanding likely will not happen during a one hour court appearance or a one hour psychiatrist appointment.  So patience and considerations to options should also be a part of the D/deaf consumers plan.

This goes further than the everyday interpretation.  It is vital that a reputable sign language interpreting firm be used to ensure that they can meet all of your needs and the needs of the D/deaf consumer.  Additionally, a consistent sign language interpreter and Certified Deaf Interpreter would be best to ensure an accurate interpretation.

Additional Resources:

Photo Credit:

MT & Associates | Sign Language Interpreting Practice BBB Business Review