How did BSL evolve?

The history of British Sign Language (BSL) is not well-documented because it is an unwritten language. Written records that we have of BSL in the past are usually in English, and often written by non-signers.

As stated in the previous section, we do know that Deaf people were signing as early as the 16th century, and we can assume that wherever Deaf people met before then, they would have signed together.

Most researchers think, though, that BSL as we know it today began in the 18th century with the growth of towns in Britain and the opening of the first schools for deaf children, so that large numbers of Deaf people were close enough to form their own communities.

When more schools for deaf children were opened in the 19th century, BSL became an established language. Although schools were independent, there was considerable communication between the schools, and teachers often moved between them. However, there was no central training in BSL, and travel was difficult, so a wide range of regional dialects developed. Despite this, Deaf people have always travelled long distances around Britain to attend Deaf events, and this has helped to create and maintain a single language in the country.