In Australia sign language is called Auslan. There are only 30,000 Australians that are completely deaf. Only 6500 use Auslan as their primary language in Australia. Most people learn in school. Auslan’s status and recognition is growing.

Auslan has a two-handed manual alphabet. It is very closely related to British sign language. Trevor Johnston coined the phrase Auslan. Auslan has been influenced by Irish sign language I SL and more recently has borrowed signs from American sign language ASL.

The first recorded deaf person in Australia was Elizabeth Steele in 1790. She was a convict from England, there is no evidence she used sign language. John Carmichael was the first person known to have used sign language in Australia. He went to a deaf school in Ireland and learned how to sign there.


The first deaf school in Australia was founded by Thomas Pattison. Deaf schools in Australia banned signing for much of the 20th century. Auslan did not gain popularity in till the 1970s and 1980s in Australia.

Auslan was not even recognized as a language at all by the Australian government until 1987. The emerging status of Auslan has gone hand in hand with the advancement of the deaf community in Australia. Because there is so little support from the government there is no standard dialect. Linguists often regard Auslan as having two major dialects Northern and Southern. The vocabulary of the two dialects differs significantly. There are different signs used for even the most common concepts like colors animals and days of the week.