Central American Sign Languages


American Sign Language (ASL) is the sign language used by the educated deaf community in Belize, with some regional variation.  Deaf education and ASL were introduced in 1958.

Costa Rica

New Costa Rican Sign Language, or Modern Costa Rican Sign Language, is the national sign language of Costa Rica’s Deaf community.  Old Costa Rican Sign Language is a deaf-community sign language of San Jose, spoken by people born before about 1945.   New Costa Rican Sign Language was formed with Old Costa Rican Sign Language and American Sign Language (ASL).   It is used primarily by people born after 1960.

El Salvador

Salvadoran Sign language (SSL) is a language used by the deaf community in El Salvador. Its main purpose is to provide education. There are three distinct forms of sign language. American Sign Language was brought over to El Salvador from the United States by missionaries who set up small communal schools for the deaf. The government has also created a school for the deaf, teaching by means of their own modified Salvadoran Sign Language. The third type of sign language used is a combination of American Sign Language and Salvadoran Sign language. Most deaf understand and rely upon both. Their own unique Salvidoran Sign language is based on their language and is most useful in regular encounters; however, American Sign Language is often relied on within education due to the larger and more specific vocabulary. This is the reason that the deaf community within El Salvador sometimes relies upon both ASL and SSL in a combined form.


Guatemalan Sign Language or “Lengua de Señas de Guatemala” (LENSEGUA) is the proposed national deaf sign language of Guatemala.  LENSEGUA was formed from other sign languages, such as Old Costa Rican Sign Language, American Sign Language (ASL), and indigenous sign languages.  About 640,000 Guatemalans have hearing loss, and an estimated 28,000-256,000 people speak LENSEGUA.


Honduran Sign Language, also known as “Lengua de Señas Hondureñas” (LESHO), is the dominant sign language used in Honduras. American Sign Language is also used.  The two are not related.

Bay Islands Sign Language (BISL), also known as French Harbour Sign Language, is an indigenous village sign language of Honduras. It started in the village of French Harbour on the island of Roatán and spread to the neighboring island of Guanaja.  There is a high incidence of Usher syndrome in French Harbour, which causes deafness and then blindness. Because of this, BISL has developed both visual and tactile modes.


Mexican Sign Language (“lengua de señas mexicana” or LSM, also known by several other names), is the language of the Deaf community in Mexico.  87,000 to 100,000 people use LSM.  In 2005, Mexican Sign Language was officially declared a “national language”, along with Spanish and indigenous languages, to be used in the national education system for the Deaf.


Nicaraguan Sign Language (ISN; Spanish: Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua) was largely spontaneously developed by deaf children in a number of schools in western Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s.  Before that, the deaf were mostly isolated and used home signs and gestures.  So ISL is of particular interest to the linguists as it was developed as a new language.


Panamanian Sign Language (Lengua de señas panameñas, LSP) is one of two sign languages of Panama. It derived from ASL and influenced by Salvadoran Sign Language (SSL).

Chiriqui Sign Language (Spanish: Lengua de Señas de Chiriquí, LSCH) is the principle sign language of the province of Chiriquí.  Located on the western coast, Chiriquí is the second most developed province in the country, after the Panamá Province.

There are an estimated six thousand deaf people in Panama. As many as two-thirds of that number live in rural areas that have no deaf community or access to sign language.