Auslan is the primary signing language used by Australia's Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities.
The Australian Federal Government recognised Auslan (Australian Sign Language) as a language in 1987. Auslan uses two-handed signs and incorporates a two-handed alphabet (fingerspelling).
Auslan is a visual language with its own grammatical structures, which are different from those found in English.
Auslan is less fixed in terms of word order when compared to the English language. This means that sentence structures are also less fixed. However, there are still some conventional rules and guidelines for using Auslan, which help guide communication.
Auslan grammar structure example:
English: I (subject) am going (verb) to the shop tomorrow (object).
Auslan: Tomorrow (time) shop (topic) me go (comment)
English: What (subject) is your (verb) dog's name (object)?
Auslan: Dog (topic) name what (question)?
The topic (or subject) can be a single thing, or a chunk of information (old information to which you will add new information). Establish the topic first before adding the rest.
Comment comes after a pause following the topic. The pause is used to check that the given topic has been understood/established. Comments also follow structure above, and can be a single sign, a chunk of new information or simply a facial expression.
Auslan structure includes H O L M E: handshape, orientation, location, movement and expression.
Refers to the shape of the hands.
Refers to the direction of the palm and finger and how they face.
Refers to where the sign is placed.
Refers to how the hands move and the speed of their movement.
Refers to facial expressions.
Examples of H O L M E:
Minimal pairs are pairs of signs that have the same parameters but except one:
Duck and Bird
Same: Location, movement, orientation and expression.
In and Under
Same: Handshape, location, movement and expression.
Yellow and White
Same: Handshape, movement, orientation and expression.
Now and Add
Same: Handshape, location, orientation and expression.
Sad and Plain
Same: Handshape, location, orientation and movement
The first Auslan dictionary was published in 1989. Since then various resources have developed including dictionaries, websites, interactive CDs and DVD programs.
Members of Deaf and hard-of-hearing communities are often bilingual and bi-cultural. They use Auslan (Australian Sign Language) in the Deaf and hard-of-hearing community and English in the hearing community to varying degrees of fluency. They live and work to varying degrees with hearing people within the hearing community and with Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in their communities.
They can often struggle with discrimination, prejudice and misunderstanding in the hearing culture, while living rich and fulfilling social, sporting and cultural lives within Deaf culture. Still, they continue to have different types of rich and rewarding relationships in both of these different cultures.