24 informonline.org.au Feature AUSLAN 101 Auslan is short for Australian Sign Language. Sign language is a visual type of communication that uses hand, arm and body movements to express meaning. Uniquely Australia, Auslan was recognised by the Australian Government as an official language in 1991. Auslan has a long history in Australia. It wasn’t invented by any one person but instead has grown and developed via the community and in response to those who use it. However, its origins can be traced to sign languages brought to Australia in the 19th century. Auslan evolved from early forms of British Sign Language used in the 1800s. Irish Sign Language also had some influence on the development of Auslan. Sign language possesses the same kind of complexity as spoken language and can convey and express nuance and subtlety. However, Auslan is not just English using signs but its own unique visual language. In fact, Auslan uses a variety of elements to convey meaning. From the handshapes—there are 38 major hand shapes with 28 variants—to the location of the signs in relation to the body, head, arm and hand movements, the orientation of the sign and facial expression. Today, nearly 20,000 people use Auslan every day. And the language has developed some uniquely Australian characteristics.
Feature informonline.org.au 25 ‘Sign language possesses the same kind of complexity as spoken language and can convey and express nuance and subtlety.’ There are many ways you can learn Auslan. Some community organisations offer classes, check locally. Many further education or TAFE institutions also offer opportunities to learn Auslan. For more information, you can contact the following organisations: Expression Australia formally Victorian Deaf Society Telephone: (03) 9473 1111 TTY: (03) 9473 1199 Telephone: (03) 9473 1186 (Sign Language Co-ordinator) Website: www.expression.com.au Deaf Australia Sydney Office Telephone: (02) 9871 8400 (TTY only) Brisbane Office Telephone: (07) 3357 8266 (TTY) or (07) 3357 8266 (Voice) Website: deafaustralia.org.au Auslan Connections (Interpreting Service) Victoria Telephone: 1800 287 526 or (03) 9473 1117, (03) 9473 1143 (TTY only) Website: www.expression.com.au/ interpreting Above: Auslan fingerspelling signs. Image: Sign Language Forum.