International Sign

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International Sign (IS) (also Gestuno,[1] International Sign Language (ISL), International Sign Pidgin[2] and International Gesture (IG)[3]) is an international auxiliary language sometimes used at international meetings such as the World Federation of the Deaf (WFD) congress, events such as the Deaflympics, and informally when travelling and socialising. It can be seen as a kind of pidgin sign language, which is not as conventionalised or complex as natural sign languages and has a limited lexicon.



Deaf people have used a kind of auxiliary gestural system for international communication at sporting or cultural events since the early 19th century.[4] The need to standardise an international sign system was discussed at the first World Deaf Congress in 1951, when the WFD was formed. In the following years, a pidgin developed as the delegates from different language backgrounds communicated with each other, and in 1973, a WFD committee ("the Commission of Unification of Signs") published a standardized vocabulary. They selected "naturally spontaneous and easy signs in common use by deaf people of different countries"[5] to make the language easy to learn. A book published by the commission in the early 1970s, Gestuno: International Sign Language of the Deaf, contains a vocabulary list of about 1500 signs. The name "Gestuno" was chosen, referencing gesture and oneness.

However, when Gestuno was first used, at the WFD congress in Bulgaria in 1976, it was incomprehensible to deaf participants.[6] Subsequently, it was developed informally by deaf and hearing interpreters, and came to include more grammar — especially linguistic features that are thought to be universal among sign languages, such as role shifting and the use of classifiers. Additionally, the vocabulary was gradually replaced by more iconic signs and loan signs from different sign languages.

The name Gestuno has fallen out of use, and the phrase "International Sign" is now more commonly used in English to identify this sign variety. Indeed, current IS has little in common with the signs published under the name 'Gestuno',

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