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Which Countries Recognize Sign Language As An Official Language?

41 countries recognize sign language as an official language.

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The World Federation of the Deaf estimates that there are 72 million deaf people in the world of whom 80% live in developing countries. There are about 300 different sign languages. In addition, International Sign Language is used by the deaf outside geographic boundaries. It is a pidgin of the natural sign language that is not complex but has a limited lexicon. Currently, only 41 countries around the world have recognized sign language as an official language. 

Movement for Official Recognition 

Human right groups recognize and advocate the use of the sign language in equal status to spoken language and obligate countries to facilitate the use of the language to promote the linguistic identity of the deaf. 

The United Nations proclaimed September 23 the International Day of Sign Language. The world body acknowledges that the knowledge of sign language is vital to the development and growth of the deaf community.

Of the 72 million deaf people in the world, only 2% have access to formal education, while less than 1% are in formal employment. The biggest challenge to the deaf community is stigmatization as people consider the disability a hindrance to one's ability to engage the duties and activities performed by ordinary people.

Countries That Recognize Sign Language as an Official Language

Of the 41 countries recognize sign language as an official language, 26 are in Europe. The European Parliament approved the resolution requiring all member states to adopt sign language in an official capacity on June 17, 1988. The parliament issued another declaration with similar resolutions in 1998.

Of the remaining countries, six are in South America, four are in Africa (Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, Zimbabwe), two are in Oceania (Papua New Guinea and New Zealand), two are in Asia (South Korea and Japan), while Mexico is the only North American state. Sign language was approved to become South Africa's 12th official language

Countries With Partial Recognition

Several other countries recognize the sign language but not in an official capacity.

The Canadian provinces of Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba recognize American Sign Language as a minority language while Section Fourteen of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants a deaf person the right to an interpreter.

Australia recognizes the Australian Sign Language as a community language, although it does not ensure the provision of services in the sign language.

Thailand recognizes the Thai Sign Language as "the national language of deaf people in Thailand." The country's Ministry of Education recognizes the same language as their first language of the deaf people in school.

The United States does not identify any language whether signed or spoken as the official language, but some states recognize American Sign Language as a foreign language while others recognize the sign language as a language of instruction in academic institutions. Some universities in the country accept the American Sign Language credit to fulfill the requirement of a foreign language. 

Which Countries Recognize Sign Language As An Official Language?

RankLegal Recognition
1Austria
2Belgium
3Bosnia and Herzegovina
4Brazil
5Chile
6Colombia
7Cyprus
8Czech Republic
9Denmark
10Ecuador
11Estonia
12Finland
13Germany
14Hungary
15Iceland
16Japan
17Kenya
18Latvia
19Lithuania
20Macedonia
21Malta
22Mexico
23New Zealand
24Norway
25Papua New Guinea
26Poland
27Portugal
28Romania
29Russia
30Serbia
31Slovakia
32Slovenia
33South Africa
34South Korea
35Spain
36Sweden
37Turkey
38Uganda
39Uruguay
40Venezuela
41Zimbabwe

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