Part 1. Socio-historical background


Deaf people who sign, experience the world in an essentially visual way. Deaf signers characterise themselves as a linguistic and cultural minority with a specific identity. The signing linguistic community defines itself by the use, awareness, and identity value of sign language. The origin of sign languages dates from the beginning of linguistic communication. For centuries, there have been important references to the knowledge of sign language throughout the world. Since the first written mentions of the deaf in the Bible, there has been a long history of citations of signed languages. It has taken several centuries, however, to recognise the value of sign languages as a natural and cultural phenomenon.

Spanish sign language (lengua de signos española, LSE) is already mentioned in the 18th century work of Lorenzo Hervás y Panduro, Escuela española de sordomudos ó Arte para enseñarles a escribir y hablar el idioma español (1795). Later, in the 19th century, the Diccionario usual de mímica y dactilología (1851), by Francisco Fernández Villabrille, was published. That same century, due to the impact that the Second International Congress on Education of the Deaf (Milan, 1880) had in Spain, the use of sign language in schools was prohibited. However, more than a century later, in 2007, thanks to the actions of the signing community, guided through the associative movement of the National Confederation of Deaf People (CNSE), both the LSE and the Catalan Sign Language (LSC) were legally recognised. The signing community has made a great effort to safeguard a language that, for many years, was considered incomplete, marginal and clandestine.

At the end of the 20th century, there were two key moments that provoked a collective reflection by deaf people in Spain concerning their history, their language, and their culture. One key moment was the Conference On Our Identity (Jornadas sobre nuestra identidad), held in Madrid in March 1992. The other was the publication of the book Lenguaje de signos, by Mª Ángeles Rodríguez in 1992, the first doctoral thesis that explored LSE linguistics. Since then, a series of political, linguistic, legal, and social advances have taken place, leading to an increase in the areas of use of LSE. Among such advances, are the publication of dictionaries and materials, the provision of training courses, the promotion of intermodal bilingual education, the generation and dissemination of research on LSE, its incorporation on television, the expansion of interpretation services, etc., right up to the achievement of legal recognition through Ley 27/2007 that recognises LSE and LSC. This law represents an important advance and highlights the need to carry out a linguistic policy and planning process. This process is still ongoing (see, for example, the II Informe sobre la situación de la lengua de signos española which studies LSE vitality).

In addition to Ley 27/2007, LSE is recognised in Andalusian Ley 11/2011 and it is present in several Statutes of Autonomy: Andalusia, Aragon, Canary Islands, Castilla y León, Valencian Community, Extremadura, Balearic Islands. In turn, LSC is recognised in the Catalan Ley 17/2010 and is present in the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia. In 2010, the Real Decreto 921/2010 was approved, which regulates the Centre for the Language Normalisation of Spanish Sign Language (CNLSE), created by Ley 27/2007, with the aim of researching, promoting and diffusion of LSE, as well as ensuring its proper use.

Ley 27/2007 defines sign languages as languages or linguistic systems of a visual, spatial, gestural and manual nature. Historical, cultural, linguistic and social factors play a role in its formation. Sign languages are traditionally used by the signing deaf, by the hearing impaired and the deafblind in Spain.

Esteban Saiz, M. L. (2022). Socio-historical background: Introduction. In S. Villameriel García (Ed.), Gramática de la Lengua de Signos Española (GramLSE) / Grammar of Spanish Sign Language (GramLSE). Real Patronato sobre Discapacidad. Retrieved Month DD, YYYY, from