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Te Ara – Encyclopedia Of New Zealand Features New Zealand Sign Language

To mark the commencement of New Zealand sign language week (21 to 27 September 2020), Te Ara, the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, features a story celebrating the genesis of one of Aotearoa’s official languages.

Neill Atkinson, Chief Historian at Manatū Taonga Ministry for Culture and Heritage says the story describes the history of New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL), signing in deaf education, variation and change in signs across regions and time, the role of interpreters, and digital technology.

“Significantly, this is the first entry to be published on Te Ara that is accompanied by video clips of NZSL interpreting the story.”

“It supports the Accessibility Charter, follows the government accessibility guide Leading the way in accessible information, and recognises NZSL as an official language of Aotearoa and a taonga for all New Zealanders.”

NZSL is the language of New Zealand’s deaf community and was made an official language in 2006.

Dr Rachel McKee, Programme Director for New Zealand Sign Language Studies at Victoria University, says NZSL is closely related to both British Sign Language and Australian Sign Language, thanks to historical contact with these countries.

“However, much like spoken English, NZSL has been more recently influenced by American Sign Language”, says Dr McKee.

“Sign Languages are just as susceptible to a globalising world as spoken languages.

“Critically though, while it is itself a distinct language, NZSL can express concepts from both English and Te Reo Maori,”.

Dr McKee says much like New Zealand English, NZSL is a living language that is gradually incorporating te reo Māori into its vocabulary.

“This has positive implications for deaf Māori who have not historically had the same access to te ao and tikanga Māori as English or te reo-speaking tangata whenua.

“The story on NZSL in Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand, provides readers with background to one of the country’s official languages, alongside Te Reo Māori and New Zealand English. While many countries have legally recognised a sign language, New Zealand is internationally unique in granting official language status in the New Zealand Sign Language Act 2006.

“Publishing the article during NZ Sign Language Week and World Week of the Deaf is a timely acknowledgement of its place in our linguistic landscape, and how important sign language recognition has been to advancing the human rights of deaf people in this country,” says Dr McKee.

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