Dialect in Auslan – North vs South

When learning Auslan, you will inevitably hear about the north and south dialects. I observe that some learners of Auslan appear to be quite fixated on this. I fear they may be overly concerned.

First, let’s explore where these dialects come from then I’ll explain my unorthodox opinion on this.

In 1860 two of Australia’s first Deaf schools were established – by sheer fluke – within 3 weeks of each other. The first in Sydney, NSW and then in Melbourne, Victoria.

Thomas Pattison set up the first school for the deaf in Australia in East Sydney; he hailed from Scotland (the origin of northern dialect).

Frederick John Rose was a deaf man who came from England and set up a school of the deaf in Melbourne, Victoria (the origin of the southern dialect).

Back in those days, British and Scottish sign language were different.

When the students at these schools went out and mingled and grew up and met others who were deaf, these languages – over time – evolved in to the Auslan that is used today. And the two dialects were clearly noticeable.

Now, here’s the point I want to make – it may not be a popular view, but I’m going to say it.

Yes, there are dialects in Auslan. And 40+ years ago, these were prevalent and quite noticeable.

But these days, with people traveling, people moving interstate, people using technology such as Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc, these differences are getting smaller and smaller.

The most noticeable differences in dialects will be colours and numbers. Overall, there might be about 30-40 signs that are different between north and south.

These days, being aware that there are differences will suffice. You are likely to see north signs used down south and vice versa.

To sum up: Be aware of these potentially differing signs, but don’t build them up to be some big deal. Learn Auslan and hopefully your tutor/teacher/educator is able to inform you of any signs you need to be aware of as you learn Auslan.