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NZSL reflects our culture

June 7, 2023

Header Image: NZSL for tikanga Māori (customs and traditions)        Image source

NZSL has been one of the country’s official languages since 2006, with more than 20 000 New Zealanders using te reo turi daily (2013 Census).

Hundreds of sign-based languages are used internationally; just as spoken languages differ from one region or country to another (for example English), so do sign languages e.g. British Sign Language is quite different to American Sign Language. Even within one sign language there are regional variations; e.g. people in Wellington may use different signs than people in Christchurch. The sign for tikanga in the picture above has many variations, depending on context.  Just like in spoken language, facial expression and body language are a big part of communication in NZSL.

In 1995, The Concise Dictionary of NZSL was launched, a landmark publication with over 4000 illustrated signs. NZSL interpreters were used for televised media following the February 2011 earthquake in Christchurch and are now commonly seen.

Have fun with your whānau, family and friends and learn some sign language; start with your name using this Finger spelling poster. There are some excellent NZSL resources to learn essential signs for home, school, work, restaurants, medical situations, weekends and Māori concepts.