Three Reasons the Deaf Need Scripture in Sign Language

ChurchLeaders | 4/22/2019 | Staff
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If you’ve watched a British movie or TV show, or if you’ve struggled to understand someone in another English-speaking country, you know that English isn’t the same worldwide. In Australia, the phrase “he lives out woop woop” means “he lives in the middle of nowhere.” In South Africa, a “medical scheme” is a legitimate method for covering healthcare needs, not a way to scam money from sick people.

If a single language contains so many differences, you can imagine the disparities between spoken languages, like English, and signed languages, like American Sign Language (ASL). Many people think ASL is just a signed form of English—that each sign has a parallel spoken word.

ASL - System - Grammar - Rules - Example

But ASL is its own complex linguistic system with distinct grammar rules. For example, facial expressions help convey meaning (like raising eyebrows to indicate a question), and forward and backward movements indicate future and past tenses. Throughout the world, there are over two hundred sign languages, each with its own signs and rules.

These linguistic differences help us understand why it’s imperative for Deaf peoples to have access to Scripture in their own sign languages. The Deaf Bible Society estimates at least 95 percent of sign languages have no Bible translation. You might think, “Well, a written Bible is available—why can’t they just read that?” But there are three important reasons that text-based Scripture is not ideal—and in some instances not even feasible—for ministry among the world’s seventy million Deaf.

Language - Deaf - Person - Heart - Language

1. Written language is not a Deaf person’s heart language.

Our heart language is the one we feel most comfortable speaking, especially when we’re having deep conversations. It’s typically the first language we learned and the one we think and dream in. Deaf people’s heart language is signed, not written. Many Deaf have learned to read, but the linguistic structures of written languages...
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