The British Deaf Association (BDA) would like to respond to comments made on Limping Chicken about British Sign Language (BSL) and Sign Supported English (SSE) and to highlight that it is important that people are clear on definitions.
The BDA is the national representative organisation of deaf people which campaigns and advocates for deaf people who use British Sign Language, and so is uniquely placed to comment on this issue.
Definition of British Sign Language
The BDA website describes how “sign languages are fully functional and expressive languages; at the same time they differ profoundly from spoken languages. BSL is a visual-gestural language with a distinctive grammar using handshapes, facial expressions, gestures and body language to convey meaning.” BSL has a history of having been used by deaf people across the centuries and has extensively been discussed in the research and political literature.
BSL has been recognised in Scottish legislation in the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015 and was recognised by the Department of Works and Pension (DWP) of the British Government on 18th March 2003. The United Nations International Day of Sign Languages is 23rd September every year.
There is a very strong link between the promotion of BSL and the linguistic human rights of British Deaf people, and this is also reflected in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Definition of Sign Supported English (SSE)
Even though people claim that they know what SSE is or that they are using SSE, is no agreed scientific definition of SSE. It is used to describe people speaking and signing at the same time, and different people of course have different skills in sign and spoken language. A hearing child of deaf parents may have different skills in signing in English order from a deaf person who learnt sign language late. It depends on the language skills of the person trying to sign and speak at the same time.
Researchers have explained it as: “contact signing” (which describes the borrowing of English words through fingerspelling or mouthing, and the use of English Grammar) or “code blending” (which describes the production of both a signed and spoken language).
It has not been possible to come up with a single explanation of SSE, and so the BDA does not support its promotion, but does promote good teaching of BSL and English. It is important to acknowledge that BSL and English will always come into contact in different situations, and each situation will always be different.
Deaf people live alongside hearing people and will need to use BSL and English at different times of their lives, and so it is important to:
- promote the use of BSL
- support good teaching of sign language
- endorse a bilingual lifestyle in both English and BSL.
 Lucas, Ceil, & Valli, Clayton. (1992). Language Contact in the American Deaf community. San Diego: Academic Press.
 Emmorey, Karen, Borinstein, Helsa B, Thompson, Robin L, & Gollan, Tamar H. (2008). Bimodal bilingualism. Bilingualism, 11(1), 43-61