Thai Sign Language

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Thai Sign Language
Native toThailand
Native speakers
10,000 or so?[1][citation needed] (1997)[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tsq

Thai Sign Language (TSL) or Modern Standard Thai Sign Language (MSTSL), is the national sign language of Thailand's deaf community and is used in most parts of the country by the 20 percent of the estimated 56,000 pre-linguistically deaf people who go to school.[4] Thai Sign Language was acknowledged as "the national language of deaf people in Thailand" in August 1999, in a resolution signed by the Minister of Education on behalf of the Royal Thai Government. As with many sign languages, the means of transmission to children occurs within families with signing deaf parents and in schools for the deaf. A robust process of language teaching and acculturation among deaf children has been documented and photographed in the Thai residential schools for the deaf.[5]

Thai Sign Language is related to American Sign Language (ASL), and belongs to the same language family as ASL.[6] This relatedness is due to language contact and creolisation that has occurred between ASL, which was introduced into deaf schools in Thailand in the 1950s by American-trained Thai educators[7] and at least two indigenous sign languages that were in use at the time: Old Bangkok Sign Language and Chiangmai Sign Language.[6] These original sign languages probably developed in market towns and urban areas where deaf people had opportunities to meet. They are now considered moribund languages, remembered by older signers but no longer used for daily conversation.[8] These older varieties may be related to the sign languages of Vietnam and Laos.[9]

There are other moribund sign languages in the country such as Ban Khor Sign Language.


  1. ^ 20% of deaf children learn sign language in school, and there were 50,000 prelingually deaf Thais in 1997
  2. ^ Thai Sign Language at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Thai Sign Language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ Reilly, Charles & Suvannus, Sathaporn (1999). Education of deaf people in the kingdom of Thailand. In Brelje, H.William (ed.) (1999). Global perspectives on education of the deaf in selected countries. Hillsboro, OR: Butte. pp. 367–82. NB. This is a prevalence estimate 1/1000 people as deaf. Based on 2007 figures of Thailand's population, an estimate of 67,000 deaf people is more accurate.[citation needed] Furthermore, hearing-speaking people are beginning to learn and use the Thai Sign Language.
  5. ^ Reilly, Charles and Reilly, Nipapon (2005). The Rising of Lotus Flowers: The Self-Education of Deaf Children in Thai Boarding Schools. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
  6. ^ a b Woodward, James C. (1996). Modern Standard Thai Sign Language, influence from ASL, and its relationship to original Thai sign varieties. Sign Language Studies 92:227–52. (see p 245)
  7. ^ Suvannus, Sathaporn (1987). Thailand. In Van Cleve, 282–84. In: Van Cleve, John V. (1987) (ed.) Gallaudet encyclopedia of deafness and deaf people. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press.
  8. ^ Woodward (1997). Sign languages and deaf identities in Thailand and Vietnam. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Washington, DC, November.
  9. ^ Ethnologue report on Chiang Mai Sign Language. See also: Woodward, James (2000). Sign languages and sign language families in Thailand and Viet Nam, in Emmorey, Karen, and Harlan Lane, eds., The signs of language revisited: an anthology to honor Ursula Bellugi and Edward Klima. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, p.23-47

Further reading[edit]

  • Nonaka, Angela M. (2004). The forgotten endangered languages: Lessons on the importance of remembering from Thailand's Ban Khor Sign Language. In: Language in Society 33:5 (2004) pp. 737–768
  • Suwanarat, M., C. Reilly, O. Wrigley, A. Ratanasint, and L. Anderson (1986). The Thai Sign Language dictionary. Bangkok: National Association of the Deaf in Thailand.
  • Suwanarat, M., O. Wrigley, and L. Anderson.(1990). The Thai Sign Language dictionary, Revised and expanded ed. Bangkok: National Association of the Deaf in Thailand.
  • Wallace, Cassie. 2019. "Spatial Relations along the In-On Continuum in Thai Sign Language." Journal of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society 12.1:163-178. Online access

External links[edit]

  • Survey report of Thai sign languages [1]