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Signed languages of Mexico

Mexican Sign Language and others
The sign “Mexico”, as drawn by Juan Carlos Miranda S.

Signed languages are used by Deaf people in many parts of the world. In Mexico, one signed language is used throughout most of the country. It is known in English as “Mexican Sign Language” and in Spanish by various names such as “Lenguaje de Signos Mexicano” and “Lengua de Señas Mexicana”. In both English and Spanish, it may be referred to by the initials “LSM”. The number of people who depend on it as a primary means of communication is unknown, but the Deaf community in Mexico seems to be larger than many whole families of indigenous languages in the country.

LSM is distinct from other signed languages, such as American Sign Language (ASL, used in the U.S.A., Canada, and many other countries), the signed languages of Spain, and those of other countries in Latin America. It has its own vocabulary and grammar which is different from the grammar of Spanish (although there is also a style of signing in Mexico that arranges LSM signs according to Spanish grammatical patterns). LSM is truly a language in its own right, fully capable of expressing as wide a range of thoughts and emotions as any other language. For further discussion of these points, see “The Identity of Mexican Sign as a Language”.

LSM is not related to any other language in Mexico, but has some similarities to American Sign Language and other signed languages influenced by or derived from Old French Sign Language.

Although LSM is the largest and most widespread signed language used in Mexico, it is not the only one; there is another one used in some Mayan communities in the Yucatan. The Summer Institute of Linguistics has not worked in this language. Further information about it may be found in the Ethnologue and in separate information kindly provided by Hubert Smith and Robert Johnson.

Work by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexican Sign Language
For more information

The illustration at the top of this page, which shows the word for ‘Mexico’ in Mexican Sign Language, is used by kind permission of Juan Carlos Miranda Santiago, a Deaf Mexican artist.