Spreadthesign is a site for learning sign languages:

Here you will find an international dictionary of the following national sign languages: Swedish, English (BSL), American English (ASL), German, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Estonian, Lithuanian, Icelandic, Latvian, Polish, Czech, Japanese, Turkish. American Sign Language and baby signs are also included in this dictionary.

This webpage is administered by the Non-Governmental and Non-Profit Organization European Sign Language Centre. Though the primary objective of the Centre is to make national sign languages available to people with hearing disabilities, the overall ambition is to make sign languages accessible to everyone.

You type a word into the search box and you’re presented with a group of flags; pick one, and you’ll see a user of the relevant sign language demonstrating it. I input “cat” and learned that most sign languages seem to identify it by its whiskers — but Ukrainian has one hand scratching the other, and Turkish has a similar gesture but with more of a soft petting motion. I wrote irritably to Yoram, who sent me the link (thanks, Yoram!), that “they expect you to know all the flags,” but I was too hasty; if you hover over the flag, you see the identification in a popup. A nice site.


  1. This site is amazing. I assume it’s no coincidence that not only French and American, but also Brazilian and Turkish Sign Language share the same sign for “with”, for instance… And yet a lot of the signs show a distribution different than I would have expected based on my prior knowledge that, for instance, ASL is supposed to derive from French Sign Language. I want to see the etymological dictionary version of this someday!

  2. Exactly!

  3. Agreed that this site is amazing, and that etymology would be great too. I enjoyed the Turkish for Charlie Chaplin (and the signer seemed to enjoy it too) and for asparagus (which was like a calque on the spoken Turkish, “birds don’t land on it” — if calling it a calque makes sense…).

  4. David Marjanović says

    Aw, no Österreichische Gebärdensprache? I’d have liked to see how different it really is from the German one.

  5. This is just fascinating, thank you. I find the country names particularly interesting, since they tend to remain similar from language to language: an incomprehensible squiggle for Brazil suddenly resolves into meaning as the coastline of South America when you see it in a different version, or what looks like a flicking of dandruff becomes the plucking of a harp for Ireland, and so on. Also interesting to see which Italian signs are the same ones used and understood by the general population (“money,” for instance), and which are completely different (“after, later”).

  6. Aw, no Österreichische Gebärdensprache?

    They have it now!

  7. David Marjanović says

    Awesome! I’ll have to take a look… at… some point.


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