IS – International Sign

What is IS, or International Sign? Why was it created? Who is using it? And how to learn it? Joanna Huczyńska explains in Polish sign language.

Hi! Hi! Today I’d like to tell you about … International Sign – IS. In Polish we called it “międzynarodowy migowy”. In a moment I’ll explain what IS really is. Let’s start with the name.

International Sign (IS), or International Sign Language (ISL)?

The correct version is “International Sign” (IS), “International Sign Language” (ISL) is incorrect. As you can see we use IS without the word “language”. Why? I’ll explain you. Let’s compare Polish (spoken and written) to IS. Why IS isn’t a “language”? Polish is an officially recognized language. It consists of:

  1. Country in which the language is used – Poland. What country does IS come from? No one. It is used all over the world.
  2. Polish is a historically developed language. What about IS? His history is scattered all over the world.
  3. In every language you can see the features or culture of the country it comes from. IS is a mixture of cultures and behaviors from all over the world.
  4. Polish is an official, approved language. IS isn’t approved in any country. What country would recognize it as their official language?
  5. Polish (or any other language) is the natural first language. IS isn’t anyone’s first language. It is always a second or subsequent language.

That is why we say IS (International Sign) not ISL (International Sign Language).

IS – how was it created?

But how was IS created? SWhere do the signs used in it come from? They are signs taken from various sign languages from around the world. Why? Because it was impossible to copy one language.

Why was IS created? When do we use it? For what purpose?

In the hearing world, English is the main language of communication. We can communicate in it all over the world. But what do deaf people have to do? Well, that’s what! That is why IS was created, as the basis for deaf people to communicate all over the world.

In IS sometimes there are signs similar to each other, for example, in Europe, they will be similar to each other, but sometimes there are other signs that we don’t understand. Then you can develop a thought, add or explain something. It all depends on the individual’s level of knowledge of the language. Whether someone quickly understands the topic, or more slowly, then we repeat several times. It is important that the other person understands what you mean.

IS is now very popular and intermingles with other sign languages. Why is this happening? Thanks to the Internet. Lots of people (from all over the world) talk to each other through webcams, thus mixing their sign language with IS. There used to be many ways to sign, but now we are limited to one intelligible sign. This process is of course gradual.

Where can we use IS?

For example, at conferences with deaf people from different parts of the world, for example EUD, EUDY, there are also different camps, for example for youth, student exchange, where there is IS. IS can also be observed on the Internet, e.g. on Instagram or Facebook, in social media, where many people post different content in IS, e.g. telling about the life or culture of deaf people in their country, what the problems are, e.g. in school, but also touching on difficult topics, such as politics. There are also many couples from different countries who met each other thanks to the conversations in IS and with time they started their life together.

Thanks to the Internet, conferences, meetings, the Erasmus program, the level of IS is constantly improving. In the past it was difficult to communicate in it, the conversation was different, based on gesticulating and showing. Today the level has risen, mainly thanks to the Internet.

Knowledge of IS among the deaf

The level of knowledge of IS can be compared to the knowledge of English (by hearing people). If someone has gone to England, uses English every day – hears it, speaks and writes in English, his proficiency will develop quickly. Likewise with IS – if one talks into it through cameras, meets someone in person, or travels frequently, one will learn IS quickly. And if someone only knows the basics of English, their conversations in English are limited to basic phrases. And the same with IS – someone who has no time, no desire, no inner motivation to learn it, only occasionally watches something, his/her level will be similar. So just like with English, we have different levels, high, lower, the same with IS.

Signs in International Sign

In IS, conversations are mostly based on visual-spatial signs, whose appearance, shape hints at the meaning of the sign. I would like to tell you an example: “I come from Australia”, I will sign it like this: “I house Australia” (sign from kangaroo), we immediately associate it with Australia. Another example: “I come from France, Paris to be precise”, how do I sign it? “I house France” (sign from the Eiffel Tower), we understand that it is about the tower.

IS Europe, IS Asia, IS America, IS Africa?

There are also groups in IS, for example IS Europe, IS Asia, IS North America, IS South America, IS Africa, IS Arabia, why is that?

For example, within Europe, people have similar experiences, problems, live close to each other, it’s like hours, they travel to each other, and when they call each other for kemra, it’s also at similar hours. Even the culture is similar then. For example, in China, Japan, Vietnam, they also have their groups, because it’s a similar area. It’s the same with North America, South America, Arabia, because they have their similar sign language and they understand each other well, they have their culture and similar experiences. This is possible, with IS European, IS North – South America, IS Africa, IS Arabia, IS Asia.

For example, here in sign language we will show “house” like this (such a construction), in another State the sign mark will not be the same, but, for example, like this (different roof, flat), or even differently (different ways to show in sign “house”). Or the culture may be different in those States, so the sign language is similar in similar countries.

Of course contact is possible, we just need to know the culture. But there is a problem, for example, we want to talk to someone through the camera, we live in Europe and someone in Asia, there is a big time difference, so we have to get up early, while it is late there. It’s the same with North and South America, there are hour problems too, so it’s just easier to have contact with people who live closer to us.

Maybe in the future IS sign will be approved and recognized, but right now it is not yet.

Learning IS

You can’t learn international sign right away, first you have to learn the sign language of your country, for example, living in Poland – Polish Sign Language, if your level will develop and you will get the basics of sign language, its grammar, visual-spatial imagination, then you can move on to IS. If someone wants to learn IS, must start with the sign language of his country, then IS, I wish you good luck. If your national sign language is at a good level and you would like to start learning IS, you can do it online or enroll in a course, there are places where you can do it. I wish you good luck.

If you have any questions about IS, feel free to ask, feel free to write me a message, I will be happy to answer. See you next time. Bye, bye!

The films from the series “We teach to sign!” Are made in cooperation with the Deaf Development Center, which runs courses and workshops in Polish sign language.

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