There is no universal Sign Language because they are formed independently. French Sign Language is used in France and the French-speaking parts of Switzerland. In addition, Francophone communities in Quebec and Montreal, Canada use Langue des Signes Québécoise. In this post, we will focus on France and learn more about the use of Sign Language in the French deaf community and how it created a rich deaf culture.
What is French Sign Language
The deaf population relies on a visual communication system called French Sign Language (LSF) or langue des signes française.
The birth of French Sign Language is interesting but also a bit misleading. The internet claims Charles-Michel de l’Épée invented French Sign Language, but he didn’t. L’Épée was exposed to French Sign Language when he met two deaf sisters who used their hands to communicate. L’Epee was so fascinated by what he saw that he decided to learn the language himself. Later on, he was called the “Father of deaf education.” for dedicating his life and career to the deaf community.
At a time when French people thought that deaf people were unintelligent and uncommunicative, l’Épée wanted to spread awareness that they were not. He ended up opening a school for deaf children in Paris. L’Epee put his twist on Sign Language that the deaf community in Paris was already using. L’Epee’s system for LSF was overly complicated, with a weird methodology, and hard to understand for many deaf people because it was signed French.
Eventually, l’Epee’s system became outdated as there was a strict move for oralism in the 19th century, which is still quite prevalent. However, his contributions fueled the development of LSF. He had an enormous influence on the deaf community in Paris. L’Epee founded the first free deaf institute and shed light on the community for its intricate and visually rich communication system, which changed some of society’s perceptions.
The Construction of French Sign Language
Like all of its long-lost relatives, LSF is an entirely visual language using hand gestures, bodily movements, and signals to communicate. The alphabet is dactylological logical, meaning — it uses signs with fingers, but unlike most Sign Languages, it only requires one hand.
There are also four types of signs used in LSF:
- Iconic Signs
- Signs from French
- Invented Signs
- Dactylogical Signs
We won’t get into the specifics of each type of sign, but they consist of LSF-specific sounds, signs used daily that even a hearing person can understand, and signs based on the French language. For grammar, it uses more or less the same structure as spoken language:
The only difference is that time is expressed through spatial movements, like the past is behind you, but the present is in front of you.
The Recognition of French Sign Language
Deaf people have always faced discrimination for using their mother tongue, continuously fighting for their right to use Sign Language. Imagine, the inability to communicate or do tasks because of a language barrier. The deaf community faces limited access to things that a hearing person would consider normal parts of life. The World Federation of the Deaf calls this a violation of the fundamental rights of the deaf community.
Even though deaf culture is considered a minority, it should be recognized, and the foundation of deaf culture is Sign Language. The refusal to recognize Sign Language is purposely silencing the deaf community. The World Federation of the Deaf began in 2020 and continues to urge government recognition and establishment of Sign Language as an official language in many countries.
Luckily in France, most of this work has already been accomplished in one way or another. In 1991, the government allowed deaf children to receive an education in FSL. Later, in 2005, the Fabius Law was passed. It was more of a law for the rights of people with disabilities, but it also recognized LSF as an official language in France.
French Sign Language in Education
Thanks to the French government for recognizing LSF as a language, schools all over France provide Sign Language education to deaf students, facilitating their learning tremendously without forceful lip reading or oralism, as in the early 19th century. In addition to that, there are also deaf-only schools, such as the institute that L’Epee established still operate in Paris today.
There are schools with interpreters and teachers trained in Sign Language and some technology that elevates the learning process for deaf students.
It is important to remember that fully immersive FSL schools and programs in a public school vary because while the accessibility of Sign Language is a bit better in France, creating an inclusive environment for deaf students is still challenging because of resources and awareness, the argument of simultaneous communication (Signed and spoken language in the classroom) but they have come a long way since Sign Language banning Sign Language in the late 1800s.
The Importance of Sign Language in the French Community
Sign Language has a grasp on every deaf community, as with any language. The French Sign Language is a deaf individual’s means of expression and communication with their environment. Not all deaf people belong to the deaf community because of other circumstances, but those that are part of it feel a sense of belonging. It’s hard to be in the world of hearing and feel isolated because of the communication barrier, but Sign Language opens doors.
Language Enrichens Culture
The deaf individuals that can use LSF share a rich cultural identity with the rest of the deaf community. It fosters this beautiful harmony that shapes social interactions, communication, and the daily lives of deaf people in France. French Sign Language is a vital part of life that will continue evolving.
Since LSF became recognized in 2005, it has been a monumental change for the deaf community in France. It’s also accessible in some public venues like theaters with performances entirely in LSF to cafes, where the waiters serve patrons in LSF.
Deaf Culture in the Arts and Recreation
The Festival Clin d’Oeil, the biggest deaf festival in the world, was established in 2003 and takes place every two years, showcasing artistic performances like theater, dancing, visual arts, and more. In the arena of sports, Eugène Rubens-Alcais, a deaf man and president of the Deaf Sports Federation, established a deaf version of the Olympics in France, which allows deaf people to compete in professional sports. Since 1924, many countries have hosted the Deaf Olympics and brought more awareness to the deaf community.
All these events and organizations are aspects of deaf culture that wouldn’t be possible without the widespread use of Sign Language to bring deaf individuals together.
Imagine a world where communication knows no boundaries, where deaf individuals are included and flourish. This world is within our grasp, and the key lies in embracing the power of sign language. To learn more about Sign Language as the pillar of deaf culture, visit,