Sign and Spoken Languages: Similarities and Differences

You may think that there are many differences between sign and spoken languages but you would be amazed to know that the underlying processes of interpretation are extremely alike. When you compare both the languages closely, you would find that there are more similarities and fewer differences in their interpretation. The main differences subsist on modality. Spoken language interpreters depend on oral approaches, whereas sign language interpreters look for visual modalities.

Differences and Similarities

To understand the differences and similarities of the sign and spoken languages, let’s define the language in three possible ways:

  • Structural properties
  • Design features
  • Uses or functions

In terms of design features, sign and spoken languages differ slightly from one another. Spoken language uses vocal-auditory channel while signed language does not use any such medium. However, both have been claimed to differ more profoundly in the level to which spoken language is made of arbitrary signs, while the other one is built on more iconic signs. A more cautious analytical attempt shows that both types of languages are comparable in this aspect in their existing form. However, there is little evidence that shows that the languages of both mediums have turned more arbitrary over time.

How Do Children Acquire a Sign Language and a Spoken Language?

Children learn sign or spoken language that already exists in their early environment, however, at different rates. In the beginning, children learn sign language earlier than spoken language but this quality diminishes over time. Deaf children have to learn sign language in a way one learns creoles, since most children learning sign language don’t have their signing parents. When learning creoles, one has to depend on the pidgin inputs. Similarly, deaf children create their own signing system while acquiring a language. The comparison between both provides some support for the belief that the language acquisition is not greatly dependent on the characteristics of the linguistic inputs.

Both the sign language and the spoken language have their own similarities and differences. While they differ in their design features and modes of expression, the underlying process of interpretation is very similar.