Israeli Sign Language

Israeli Sign Language
שפת הסימנים הישראלית
śfàt ha-simaním ha-yiśre'elít
שס"י shássi [abbr.]
Native toIsrael
Native speakers
10,000 (2003)[1]
German Sign Language family
  • Israeli Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3isr

Israeli Sign Language, or ISL, is the most commonly used sign language in the deaf community of Israel. Some other sign languages are also used in Israel, among them Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language.


The history of ISL goes back to 1873 in Germany, where Marcus Reich, a German Jew, opened a special school for Jewish deaf children. At the time, it was considered one of the best of its kind, which made it popular with Jewish deaf children from all over the world as well as non-Jews. In 1932, several teachers from this school opened the first school for Jewish deaf children in Jerusalem. The sign language used in the Jerusalemite school was influenced by the German Sign Language (DGS), but other sign languages or signing systems brought by immigrants also contributed to the emerging language, which started out as a pidgin. A local creole gradually emerged, which became ISL.[1]

ISL still shares many features and vocabulary items with DGS, although it is too far apart today to be considered a dialect of the latter.

During the 1940s, ISL became the language of a well-established community of Jewish deaf people in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Today ISL is the most used and taught sign language in Israel, and serves as the main mode of communication for most deaf people in Israel, including Jewish, Muslim and Christian Arabs, Druze, and Bedouins. Some Arab, Druze, and Bedouin towns and villages have sign languages of their own.

In addition to ISL, there is also Hebrew manually coded language used as a tool to teaching deaf children the Hebrew language, and for communication between deaf and hearing people.

Deaf community

The beginnings of an established Deaf community in Israel started with the 1936 Tel-Aviv Purim parade, when groups from Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv and Haifa met for the first time. This led to the creation of the Association of the Deaf in Israel.[2] The first official board was elected in 1944, with Moshe Bamberger as its first president. The association organized lectures, trips, and holiday celebrations. The community grew as refugees from World War Two fled to Israel, and the association helped new arrivals integrate into the Israeli community by helping them learn Israeli Sign Language and helping them find work. The association completed their Tel-Aviv headquarters, Helen Keller House, in 1958.[2]


The first school for the deaf was established in 1932, a strict boarding school in Jerusalem that taught oralism. Two other oralist schools were established in Tel-Aviv in 1941 and Haifa in 1949. The emphasis on oralism began to change in the 1970s, when Izchak Schlesinger began to research ISL, and with Israel hosting the Fourth International Conference on Deafness in 1973. 

Manual alphabet

The manual alphabet is quite similar to that of American Sign Language. The correspondences are as follows:

  • א ʽ as ASL 'A', but with thumb extended
  • ב b as ASL 'B'
  • ג g as ASL 'G'
  • ד d as ASL 'D', but with fingers 3, 4, 5 flat and tips touching tip of thumb
  • ה h as ASL 'H'
  • ו v as ASL '1'
  • ז z as ASL 'Z'
  • ח ch as ASL '8', but with only index and pinkie extended
  • ט t as ASL 'F'
  • י j as ASL 'I'
  • כ k as ASL 'C'
  • ל l as ASL 'L'
  • מ m as ASL 'M'
  • נ n as ASL 'N'
  • ס s as ASL 'S'
  • ע ʽ as bent ASL 'V' (like 'X', but with two bent fingers)
  • פ p as ASL 'P'
  • צ ts as ASL '3'
  • ק q as ASL 'K'
  • ר r as ASL 'R'
  • ש sh as ASL 'W'
  • ת t as ASL 'T'

Unexpected correspondences are ASL 'F' for Hebrew ט tet (analogous to Greek theta becoming Cyrillic fita), '1' rather than 'U' or 'V' for ו vav, old-fashioned 'C' and 'K' rather than 'K' and 'Q' for כ kaf and ק qof (both are pronounced like an English 'k' or hard 'c'), '3' for צ tsade, and 'W' for ש shin (reflecting its shape).

If needed, one may indicate the final forms of letters, ך ם ן ף ץ, by moving the hand downward. To specify שׂ sin, the hand is turned to face the signer (showing the back of the hand).

See also


  1. ^ a b Meir, Irit; Sandler, Wendy; Padden, Carol; Aronoff, Mark (2010). "Chapter 18: Emerging sign languages" (PDF). In Marschark, Marc; Spencer, Patricia Elizabeth (eds.). Oxford Handbook of Deaf Studies, Language, and Education. vol. 2. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-539003-2. OCLC 779907637. Retrieved 2016-11-05.
  2. ^ a b Bush, Lawrence (June 26, 2016). "June 27: Helen Keller and the Jews". Jewish Currents.

Further reading

  • Meir, Irit & Sandler, Wendy. (2007) A Language in Space: The Story of Israel Sign Language. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

External links

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