Auslan not AUSLAN
Events of the last 18 months have increased the prominence of Auslan, the sign language of the Australian Deaf community, in the media, in government circles, in public and private sector organisations, and amongst the general public. There has been an increased public and official awareness of some aspects of its importance to the Australian Deaf community, particularly its role in facilitating equitable access to information.
This increased prominence has naturally resulted in frequent references to the term “Auslan” in printed or digital text. On many occasions, writers or editors are choosing to present the word as an acronym, capitalizing the letters: “AUSLAN”.
Position Statement – Auslan or AUSLAN? (v.1)
The position of the Deaf community on this is quite clear, as outlined in a recent amendment to the Auslan Policy of Deaf Australia, the peak advocacy body for Australia’s signing Deaf community:
“Auslan is a word coined by the Deaf community. It is a term derived from its meaning (Australian sign language), but which was never intended to be an acronym. Rather, it was coined for the purpose of referring in English to the unique signed language indigenous to Australian Deaf culture, which was developed and nurtured by generations of Deaf people as their natural language, and which is at the heart of Deaf culture and Deaf identity. As such, out of respect for the culture from which it originates, the word should be written as a proper noun (“Auslan”), and not capitalised as an acronym (“AUSLAN”).”
While this is a small issue, it goes to the heart of how Auslan is perceived. For the Deaf community, it is critical that Auslan is recognized as an organic, complete, and distinct language, with the same status as equivalent spoken languages, and that its cultural origin in their community, and their custodianship of it, is acknowledged.
This is supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons of Disabilities which defines ‘sign language’ as a language (Article 2).
Presenting the word as an acronym is counter to the intention and wishes of the Deaf community from which it originated, and for whom it is a cultural totem.
Auslan Day 2021
Why are people calling tomorrow “Auslan Day”?
13th April 1989 was the date of publication of the first Auslan dictionary. In 2019 DSNSW made a video to celebrate 30 years since the first publication, and last year several of our members suggested through their social media posts that this date should become an annual celebration, and gave it the name Auslan Day. This seemed to be a very popular suggestion in the community, and at
Deaf Australia we think it’s a really interesting idea and a great way to remember the starting point of Auslan being recognised as a distinct language in its own right by our community and the public. It could also be a great platform for Auslan users to proudly promote Auslan as the natural communication mode for Deaf people, as well the culture & history of the Deaf community.
This year Deaf Australia is celebrating the anniversary of the first Auslan dictionary in a few ways. First by releasing a video of an interview with Professor Trevor Johnston, who created the dictionary, about the use of term ‘Auslan’. Then later in the evening, DA will host a webinar about the history of Auslan by Darlene Thornton. For this week, DA is encouraging members of Deaf community to use the custom designed frame celebrating Auslan Day to use on your Facebook’s Profile – you can find the frames on DA’s Facebook Page.
DA is keen to get your feedback about making this celebration a permanent official fixture on the Deaf Community’s calendar, and calling it “Auslan Day”. We will discuss and vote on this at the next DA AGM, which will be later this year. Many members of DA believe this will help promote awareness of Auslan and its community of users to the broader Australian community, and help us in pushing for Auslan to be formally recognised as an official minority language in Australia. Auslan was recognised as a community language in Australia in 1991.