Role of Sign Language in Astronomy

Sign language is a medium of communicating one’s thoughts and ideas through facial expressions, hand shapes and finger spellings. It is currently used in all countries. Various heritages and cultures have generated specific signs to refer to common objects or identical situations. Over these years, eventually, a universal sign language is being developed in order to refer to objects and situations that have a relation with contemporary technology or events. Lately, the IAU Commission for Astronomy, Equity and Inclusion (IAU Division C, Commission C1 WG3), commenced a long duration project.

This project involves the collection of the different signs in several languages. The Commission has initially selected 47 words that are most frequently used in astronomy education and outreach. The Commission used its prior experience of translating Proust’s encyclopaedic dictionary of astronomy entitled Hands in the Stars, in its present project. The signs in the list symbolize association among deaf communities, educators, and astronomers around the world. The suggested signs are focussed to attract participation of the deaf community in scientific discussions. The main aim of the compilation is (i) to put forward the differences between different languages; (ii) support communities to develop their own sign languages. The Commission is also working towards examination of each sign. This is being done to figure out the similarities and differences between different languages and propose a common sign for each word for every country. Although, this looks like an impossible task, yet it is worth exploring.

By: Anuja Arora


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