Please be upstanding for China’s sign language national anthem

Chinese schools for the deaf start the school year with a standard lexicon as part of a national drive to improve communication

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 8:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 03 September, 2018, 10:56pm

For the pupils at the Beijing Qiyin Experimental School in the heart of the Chinese capital, Saturday was not only the beginning of the academic year, it was the first time they had started the day with an official sign language version of the national anthem.

The children at the school for the deaf lined the courtyard and signed along with a screen displaying the official sequence of signs for the March of the Volunteers, state broadcaster China Central Television reported.

The anthem is part of a top-down movement to standardise Chinese sign language, which, like spoken Chinese, has regional variations that can complicate communication between users from different parts of the country.

The National List of Common Words for Universal Sign Language was officially implemented on July 1 and is the product of a seven-year effort of several government bodies to create a standardised system of signing for the nation’s 33 million hearing-impaired people.

Gong Qunhu, a linguistics professor at Fudan University, said he supported regional variations but a general sign language was an important step for national activities and communication.

“In China, we need a lingua franca, a national language that can make communication between deaf communities easier,” Gong said.

He said the regional variations reflected local identities but the differences were not great.

“In spoken language, Chinese dialects can be very complicated. Northern people do not understand Cantonese, for example. But in sign language, the difference among sign languages is something more similar to the differences between northern dialects,” Gong said.

“Deaf people understand each other, but they have different choices of signs, or they have local signs, which are not known to other deaf communities.

“Well-traveled deaf people can sign anywhere in China.”

Deaf teacher strives to make learning through sign language fun for hearing-impaired pupils

He said he hoped the national language would continue to develop with the contributions from deaf communities around China.

“The dialects across China are very precious ... We can extract general signs from the varieties,” Gong said.

“In promoting the natural standard language, we cannot forget that the real natural sign language is all the varieties, as we can see anywhere in the world in spoken languages.”

The Ministry of Education said it decided on the 5,000-plus signs in the national lexicon after extensive research, including a survey of thousands of sign language users and teachers.

The system would be used in schools and be the standard for national media, the authorities said.