Korean Sign Language

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Korean Sign Language
Native toSouth Korea
Japanese Sign
  • Korean Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-2sgn
ISO 639-3kvk

Korean Sign Language or KSL (Korean한국 수화 언어; Hanja韓國手話言語; RRHanguk Suhwa Eoneo or 한국 수어; 韓國手語; Hanguk Sueo) is the Japanese-Korean sign language used for deaf communities of South Korea under the North-South Korean border. It is often referred to simply as 수화; 手話; suhwa, which means signing in general.

KSL is currently one of two official languages in South Korea along with Korean.


The beginnings of KSL date from 1889,[1] although standardization efforts have only begun in 2000.[2] The first South Korean school for the Deaf was established on April 1, 1913, in Seoul, and it was renamed as the National School for the Deaf in 1945, to be later renamed the Seoul School for the Deaf in 1951.[3]


Although the origins of KSL predate the Japanese colonial period (de jure beginning 1910), the sign language developed some features in common with Japanese Sign Language (JSL) grammar when Korea was under Japanese rule.[1] KSL is considered part of the Japanese Sign Language family.[4]


According to the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, there were 252,779 people with hearing impairment and 18,275 people with language disorders in South Korea as of late 2014.[5] Recent estimated figures for the number of Deaf people in South Korea range from 180,000 to 300,000.[6] This is approximately 0.36%–0.6% of the population of South Korea.

Official status[edit]

On 31 December 2015, the South Korean National Assembly passed Legislation to recognize Korean Sign Language as one of Korea's official languages.[7] There were two bills and two policies passed under this legislation which were "Korean Sign Language Standard Policy", "Sign Language Bill", "Korean Sign Language Bill" and "Sign Language and Deaf Culture Standard Policy", which were then merged as The Fundamental Law of Korean Sign Language.[8] The legislation opens the way for better access and improved communication in education, employment, medical and legal settings, as well as religious and cultural practices. [7] Proposals within the legislation consisted of the national and regional policy and the enactment for education of Korean Sign Language which promotes and distributes the information for creating a better environment to use Korean Sign Language. Furthermore, the Korean Sign Language Improvement Planning needs to be conducted every five years and research and investigation of the use of Korean Sign Language for the Deaf need to be conducted every three years.[8]

The Korean Sign Language Act (Korean한국수화언어법; Hanja韓國手話言語法; RRHanguk Suhwa Eoneo Beop), which was adopted on 3 February 2016 and came into force on 4 August 2016, established Korean Sign Language as an official language for the Deaf in South Korea equal in status with Korean. The law also stipulates that the national and local governments are required to provide translation services in Korean Sign Language to Deaf individuals who need them. After Korean Sign Language had been established, it became a requirement for there to be signed interpretations in court. KSL is also used during public events and social services programs. South Korea offers sign language courses for hearing. Special sign language instruction courses are available for parents with deaf children (Frawley 2003).[9][10]

KSL gestures are evaluated using three usability criteria: Intuitiveness, preference, and physical stress. Intuitiveness is the link between the gesture itself and its meaning. Preference is how liked, or disliked, the gesture is when presented. Physical stress refers to how much strain the gesture puts on the body to perform. The ideal gesture is one that has a clear link to its meaning, is well liked as a physical expression, and does not cause unnecessary stress to present.[11]

A study was performed in 2013 to test the Korean Sign Language gestures under the three criteria. This study found that user-designed gestures would often perform better than official KSL gestures in the areas of preference and physical stress. The study also showed that there was a strong link between a gesture’s intuitiveness and the preference of the user. A weaker link was shown between preference and physical stress, making intuitiveness a strong evaluation point in KSL. This study showed the weaknesses in the current KSL format compared to the strengths of user-designed gestures.[11]

The study performed by Korea Institute of Science and Technology in 2013 found, “Compared with other modalities of interaction, the use of gestures has many advantages,” (Woojin 2013). These advantages include: gestures are basic form of interaction, next to speech. Gestures are able to convey a number of meanings, this is present through other sign languages such as American Sign Language. KSL has military uses such as a method of communication when voice based and keyboard and mouse-based interaction is not possible. Commanders give hand signals to other members to convey messages to one another without alerting nearby forces. KSL also is used in hospital settings within the operating rooms. Gestures are used to communicate in environments where the need for sanitation prevent other forms of communication. The gestures encourage the breaking up of information. Each gesture has one meaning, easing the burden of human-computer interaction. Gestures are easily used with other methods, such as vocal communication. This is seen in other sign languages through mouthing out the word of each gesture. Using hands in order to communicate through gestures reduces physical stress by using simple gestures that put little strain on the arms and hands.[11]

The Korean Sign Language is managed and catalogued by the National Institute of the Korean Language (NIKL), which is a government agency tasked with providing authoritative commentary on Korean language in general. The NIKL, along with the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, has worked to standardize KSL starting in 2000, publishing the first official KSL dictionary in 2005, as well as a common phrasebook by 2012.[2]

A searchable, online dictionary for KSL can be found at a NIKL webpage.

Functional markers[edit]

KSL, like other sign languages, incorporates non-manual markers with lexical, syntactic, discourse, and affective functions. These include brow raising and furrowing, frowning, head shaking and nodding, and leaning and shifting the torso.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fischer, Susan et al. (2010). "Variation in East Asian Sign Language Structures" in Sign Languages, p. 501 at Google Books
  2. ^ a b Lee, Hyun Hwa (February 2017). "한국수어 정비 사업" (PDF). 국립국어원.
  3. ^ "서울맹학교 학교역사". Seoul School for the Deaf. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  4. ^ Fischer, p. 499 at Google Books
  5. ^ Cited in "「한국수화언어법」 국회 통과로 27만여 농인 언어권 보장", the press release for the Korean Sign Language Act from the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, 4 January 2016
  6. ^ "South Korea - AASL". aasl.aacore.jp. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
  7. ^ a b "Two Sign Languages Given Official Language Status". SIL International.
  8. ^ a b Choi, Taeyoon. "Korean Sign Language is an official language in South Korea, finally". Medium.
  9. ^ Frawley, William (2003). "Sign Language". International Encyclopedia of Linguistics.
  10. ^ The original text of the legislation in Korean can be viewed here.
  11. ^ a b c Park, Woojin (2013). "Utilizing Sign Language Gestures For Gesture-Based Interaction: A Usability Evaluation Study". International Journal of Industrial Engineering.
  12. ^ Fischer, p. 507 at Google Books


  • Brentari, Diane. (2010). Sign Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521883702; OCLC 428024472
  • Wittmann, Henri (1991). "Classification linguistique des langues signées non vocalement," Revue québécoise de linguistique théorique et appliquée. Vol. 10, No. 1, pp. 215–288, 283.
  • Minseok, S., Woojin, P., Jaemoon, J., Dongwook, H., & Jungmin, P. (2013). Utilizing Sign Language Gestures for Gesture-based Interaction: A Useability Evaluation Study. International Journal Of Industrial Engineering, 20(9/10), 548–561.
  • Kendon, A., Sandler, W., & Grimes, B. (2003). "Sign Language". In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved from here
  • Jhang, S. (2009). Notes on Korean Sign Language. In P. Li (Author) & C. Lee, G. Simpson, & Y. Kim (Eds.), The Handbook of East Asian Psycholinguistics (pp. 361-376). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

External links[edit]