Brazilian Sign Language

Brazilian Sign Language
Native to Brazil and Brazilian diaspora
Region Urban areas
Native speakers
3 million (no date)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bzs
Glottolog braz1236[3]

Brazilian Sign Language (BSL) is the sign language used by Deaf communities of urban Brazil. It is also known as "Libras" (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈlibɾɐs], from "ngua Brasileira de Sinais" [ˈlĩɡwɐ bɾaziˈlejɾɐ dʒi siˈnajs]) and variously abbreviated as LSB, LGB or LSCB (Brazilian Cities Sign Language).[4]

Recognition and status

Brazilian Sign Language is well-established; several dictionaries, instructional videos and a number of articles on the linguistic features of the language have been published. It has dialects across Brazil reflecting regional and sociocultural differences.

A strong sign language law was passed by the National Congress of Brazil on April 24, 2002, and (in 2005) is in the process of being implemented.[5] The law mandates the use of Brazilian Sign Language in education and government services.

Educational approaches have evolved from oralism to Total Communication and bilingualism.


BSL fingerspelling uses a one-handed manual alphabet similar to that used by the French Sign Language family.[6]

There are 44 distinct handshapes used in the language.[4]


There is no widely used writing system for Brazilian Sign Language. BSL signs are commonly transcribed using Portuguese words, written in upper case, to stand for each equivalent BSL morpheme.[7]

Transcription of BSL signs using SignWriting has been in place since at least 1997 with the SignNet Project in Porto Alegre and Fernando Capovilla's dictionaries in São Paulo. The University of Santa Catarina at Florianopolis (UFSC) has required courses in SignWriting as the preferred form of LIBRAS transcription.

SignWriting is cited as being useful in the pedagogy of young children.

The Federal University of Santa Catarina has accepted a dissertation written in Brazilian Sign Language using Sutton SignWriting for a master's degree in linguistics. The dissertation "The Writing of Grammatical Non-Manual Expressions in Sentences in LIBRAS Using the SignWriting System" by João Paulo Ampessan states that "the data indicate the need for [non-manual expressions] usage in writing sign language".

Deaf and sign language organizations

The most important deaf organization is FENEIS, the Federação Nacional de Educação e Integração dos Surdos (National Federation of Deaf Education and Integration). There are a number of regional organizations in Curitiba, Caxias do Sul and Rio Grande do Sul.


Wittmann (1991)[8] posits that Brazilian Sign Language is a language isolate (a 'prototype' sign language), though one developed through stimulus diffusion from an existing sign language, likely Portuguese Sign Language and/or French Sign Language.

See also


  1. Brazilian Sign Language at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement." Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215–88.
  3. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Brazilian Sign Language". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. 1 2 Ferreira-Brito, Lucinda and Langevin, Rémi (1994), The Sublexical Structure of a Sign Language, Mathématiques, Informatique et Sciences Humaines 32:125, 1994, pp. 17–40
  5. LIBRAS law (in Portuguese) Archived April 26, 2005, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. LIBRAS manual alphabet
  7. Paiva, Francisco Aulísio dos Santos; De Martino, José Mario; Barbosa, Plínio Almeida; Benetti, Ângelo; Silva, Ivani Rodrigues (2016). "Um sistema de transcrição para língua de sinais brasileira: o caso de um avatar". Revista do GEL. 13 (3): 13, 21–24. doi:10.21165/gel.v13i3.1440.
  8. Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement." Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée 10:1.215–88.


  • Gama, Flausine José da Costa: Iconographia dos Signaes dos Surdos-Mudos.[Iconography of Signs for the Deaf-Mute]. Rio de Janeiro : E.+H.Laemmert 1875
  • Capovilla, F. C., and W. D. Raphael, eds. 2001. Dicionário enciclopédico ilustrado trilíngüe da Língua de Sinais Brasileira: Vols. 1 (Sinais de A a L) & 2 (Sinais de M a Z). [Trilingual illustrated encyclopedic dictionary of Brazilian Sign Language, Vols. 1 and 2] São Paulo: Edusp, FAPESP, Fundação Vitae, Feneis, Brasil Telecom. Volume One: ISBN 85-314-0600-5 Volume Two: ISBN 85-314-0603-X
  • Xavier, André Nogueira and Sherman Wilcox. 2014. Necessity and possibility modals in Brazilian Sign Language (Libras). Linguistic Typology 18(3): 449 – 488.
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