French Sign Language: Langue des Signes Française (LSF)

For centuries, Langue des Signes Française has been the language of choice for hundreds and thousands of French citizens who are Deaf. In fact, it is documented as one of the oldest sign languages in the world, dating back to the 1600s.

A hearing man named Charles Michael de l'Épée first stumbled into this language, literally, in the mid 1700s. It is documented that he ducked into a house to avoid the rain and was standing between twin sisters. Both of the sisters were Deaf and signing to each other.

At this time, Paris's population was approximately 565,000; 200 of which were Deaf. This means that 1 person out of every 2,825 citizens were Deaf!

l'Épée was immediately entranced by the sisters’ language. It was here that he was first exposed to the language (now known as Old French Sign Language). He quickly acquired this signed language and in the early 1760’s, established the Paris School for the Deaf which was the first free school for the Deaf in the world.

At first, l'Épée thought LSF to be primitive and incomplete. He tried to create methodical signs to show the relationship between spoken French and LSF, but it turned out to be too complicated and ineffectual to and by his students. Nonetheless, he was able to prove to the world that Deaf people were capable of thought and reasoning, contrary to previous popular beliefs. It was from this point that Deaf people were now able to defend themselves in court, obtain basic human rights, and become involved with the Christian community.

Back then, Deaf people were not educated to speak, read, or write at this time because there were seemingly no viable teaching methods for the Deaf. It was the general belief in the 1700s that if one could not speak, read, or hear, one could not learn. If one could not learn their Bible, their soul could not be saved through religion and they would be damned to hell for all eternity. It becomes clear that this was one of the main reasons why de l'Épée wanted to educate the Deaf: to teach them religion.

Today in France, the Deaf population has risen along with the signing population. Old French Sign Language is only a reference for the modern sign language system. Like American Sign Language, French Sign Language uses a one-handed manual alphabet. Some of the letters are the same in ASL as well!

Here is a webpage that shows the Langue des Signes Française manual alphabet:

French Sign Language Manual Alphabet

This manual alphabet is used to spell French words while signing. Some of these handshapes are also found regularly within LSF's hand signs.

french sign language, LSF, Langue des Signes Française, baby signing, Signs in France, baby sign language picture

Deaf individuals in France aren’t the only French citizens to use Langue des Signes Française; there are Teachers of the Deaf, interpreters, family, and friends of the Deaf adding to the signing count.

Altogether, it is estimated that 50,000-100,000 people use LSF. This means that approximately one out of 961 people in France know French Sign Language.

Since sign languages are finally being recognized world-wide as full, actual languages, these specific languages' exposure to the mainstream media is much broader.

Since the turn of the century, French Sign Language can be found in at least six movies or television series when before the year 2000 there were only three.

Of course, since French Sign Language is used primarily in France, it is not deeply documented yet in the US or in English. It is evident though, with the recent explosion in popularity, most sign languages worldwide will later/sooner be available for all who have the zeal to learn a signed language for whatever beautiful reason.

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