We are not the same: Australian Sign Language (Auslan) and American Sign Language (ASL)

Many countries around the world have their own sign language.  In Australia, we have Auslan.  

Some people mistakenly assume that ASL might stand for Australian Sign Language – It is easy to see where the confusion may come from!

However, ASL actually stands for American Sign Language which is used in North America (USA and Canada). 

Australian Sign Language is known as Auslan – a portmanteau of Australian Sign Language.

*NOTE There are also Indigenous sign languages in Australia. For the purpose of this blog, I am focussing on Auslan.*

While both of these places – Australia and North America – use English as their spoken language, do not assume that their sign languages are similar too. In fact, there is a HUGE difference between these two sign languages!

Auslan is part of a sign language family called BANZSL. 

BANZSL stands for British, Australian, New Zealand Sign Language. If a sign language user from any of these countries travels between Australia, NZ, and Britain, they will find that they can understand many, if not most, of the other country’s signs.

The reason for this commonality is that many years ago the British came to Australia and NZ and taught their sign language (British Sign Language) and also, some Scottish signs too – hence why we see dialect differences within Australia.

(See blog: Dialects in Auslan – Northern vs Southern).

While Australia and NZ sign languages have evolved since that time, all three sign languages can mostly be understood amongst each other – even to this day.

On the other hand (no pun intended), when I went to the USA when I was 20 years old and met other Deaf people there, I couldn’t understand a single sign – not even one! We managed to get by with gesturing and fingerspelling and the like. This is because ASL’s signs have its origin in France.

At the most fundamental level, Auslan and ASL are very different – and this is evident in the most basic of structures: their alphabets. 

Auslan uses two hands, ASL uses one hand.

There is very little commonality between Auslan and ASL. 

So when Googling or YouTubing sign language content, always be mindful to look for/type in ‘Auslan’, not ‘ASL’.

Hope you found this handy and keep up your Awesome Auslan!

Disclaimer This information is entirely subjective and based on my personal experience, interpretation and understanding of the subject matter.