Catalonia is one of Spain´s most well-known bilingual regions, where orally-spoken Catalan and Spanish are both recognized on an institutional level in society. Interestingly, however, this bilingualism does not apply to the region’s use of sign language.
An introduction to Catalan Sign Language
Although Spanish Sign Language, or LSE (Lengua de signos española), is used by the deaf and deaf-blind community throughout the rest of Spain, Catalan Sign Language or LSC (Lengua de signos catalana) is used in Catalonia. In deaf education, users of LSC are also generally instructed in reading and writing of Catalan and Spanish.
There are approximately 28,000 users of Catalan Sign Language in the region of Catalonia, and the language is also used on the island of Menorca, according to Alexandra Navarrete González, an LSC interpreter and researcher in the Department of Translation and Language Sciences at University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. Since the situation of bilingualism in Catalan and Spanish in Catalonia does not apply to sign language, users of sign language will typically take on Catalan Sign Language upon moving to the region.
“Sign language rises out of the need for a deaf community to communicate,” said Navarrete González. “When people move to Catalonia, they adopt Catalan Sign Language.”
According to Ethnograph, LSC is known for being fairly similar to French Sign Language (LSF), and is 70-80% intelligible for users of Spanish Sign Language, of which there are an estimated 45,000-75,000 users.
Learning Catalan Sign Language in Barcelona
Although the Centre d´Estudis de la Lengua de Signes Catalana (Center for LSC Studies) at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona was established a little over a year ago, its translation and research studies have been in the works for 10 years. UPF is also the first university in both Spain and Catalonia to offer sign language studies. The center offers undergraduate programs in LSC translation and interpretation, as well as specialized courses and comprehensive online courses for both hearing and deaf people. The center also works with other groups and institutions to increase awareness of LSC and collaborate on resources for the deaf and deafblind community. The center also collaborates with the University of Barcelona and University of Sevilla in their General Linguistics Departments.
Catalan Sign Language resources
There are a variety of both public and private resources for the deaf community in Barcelona. For example, AGILS Accesibilidad provides accessibility resources to members of the blind and deaf community in Barcelona, including LSC and LSE interpretation, audiovisual subtitles, and event resources.
The Serveis Integrals en Llengua de Signes i Accessibilitat, or SILS, also offers LSC and LSE interpretation and events for the deaf community, as well as courses in different areas of Spanish and Catalan sign languages.
The Casal de Sords de Barcelona is a non-profit organization for the deaf community in Barcelona that has existed since the early 1900´s, and also offers Catalan Sign Language interpreters. Their services are available via the Ayuntamiento de Barcelona, where they offer contact information for requests.
A brief history of sign language in Catalonia
For the deaf and deaf-blind community in Catalonia, the journey towards proper resources and equal engagement in society through LSC, as with sign language in many other countries, has taken a little longer, and is still continuing. Although efforts to teach sign language to deaf people have existed since the 17th century in Spain, sign language was not required to be taught to deaf children in Catalonian schools up until 1994, when it was mandated by the Autonomous Parliament of Catalonia.
In 2006, Catalan Sign Language was officially recognized within Catalonia by the Statute of Autonomy de Catalonia. The following year, both Spanish Sign Language and Catalan Sign Language were recognized officially by the rest of Spain in Ley 27/2007, and Catalan Sign Language was addressed again in 2010. However, the section of the 2007 act regarding Spanish Sign Language recognizes the issue of accessibility for deaf people in Spain, while the section of the 2007 and 2010 acts regarding Catalan Sign Language only specify “regulation” of the language.
Although Catalan Sign Language has been researched heavily and is well known within the linguistics community, information about the language is less publicly well-known, as also tends to happen with other sign languages.
Even within Barcelona where it is used, information about Catalan Sign Language tends to be fairly unknown.
Main photo via Verywell