With over 300 sign languages, some are officially recognized by entire continents. Some are so niche as to be bound by tightly-knit village communities. It seems impossible to imagine them all together. But we only need to see the signers together to understand how the happiness is shared.
Read more: Sign languages around the world
One lovely compilation by Deaf traveler Calvin Young does a great job of introducing us to how the simple wish of Happy New Year looks when signed in 106 different sign languages. In his own words, this is his attempt at bridging “the communication divide between our colorful Deaf community.”
Here’s another that he posted showing us how Merry Christmas is signed in 103 different sign languages around the world:
It is this second video that is most interesting. The shape of a Christmas tree being traced with fingers seems surprisingly universal. You could be sitting in Australia or Congo or be hearing or deaf. Most of these signs will be understood by most of us.
Sign languages are not supposed to be mutually intelligible. Could this mean that they share more similarities than we imagine?
The evolution of language might offer clues to this. Evolutionary linguists who have been studying such emerging languages as ISL (Israeli Sign Language) and NSL (Nicaraguan Sign Language) have arrived at some amazing insights.
An article published in Science claims that “sign languages around the world may have evolved in strikingly similar ways.” By studying linguistic structures separated by distances spanning half the globe, they found incredible similarities in how the sign languages were evolving. From the use of facial expression to the eventual use of the non-dominant hand, language goes forth in pretty much the same way.
“Sign languages around the world may have evolved in strikingly similar ways.”
No matter how different each deaf individual is, the desire to communicate is obvious in each of us. This should explain why the almost-impossible idea of creating a common language such as International Sign (formerly called “Gestuno”) should have come about. Check out this limited but exciting International Sign Language Dictionary to find sign language words and letters we share.
Read more: How to learn sign language
Personally, I have a soft corner for handspeak. Despite hearing the world with my left ear and being deaf in the right, I’m going to bring in 2022 by voicing as well as signing my best wishes to loved ones. After all, the more ways we have to celebrate, the merrier the party!