A giant stride towards sign language recognition in Malta

deaf association of malta

A big step towards official recognition of sign language in Malta was taken in March when the Maltese Sign Language Recognition Bill was presented in Parliament for debate.

The new Bill proposes the setting up of a council that has several responsibilities, including promoting the use of Maltese sign language and attracting more people to learn it and to become interpreters.

According to the EUD there were only seven sign language interpreters in Malta in 2014.

Malta’s Parliamentary Secretary for Disability and the Elderly, Justyne Caruana, said the government was also working on an EU-funded project that would train civil servants in
sign language.

The Bill will provide for the setting up of the Sign Language Council of Malta, in order to achieve a situation where the Deaf community is consulted on matters relating to Maltese Sign Language. Two members from the Deaf community will form part of this Council.

It also provides for the promotion of the use and development of Maltese Sign Language, while declaring it an official language of Malta.

This Act itself will be based on the principles of the consolidation of human rights, equal opportunities and linguistic rights.  The official text says: “Maltese Sign Language means the visual and gestural language that is the first or preferred language in Malta of the distinct linguistic and cultural Deaf community.”

The EUD had been working together with the Deaf Association in Malta to get to this point. They organised a meeting with high level representatives of Ministries in Malta to explain the importance of having recognition of Sign Language.

In November the EUD hosted a conference in the European Parliament and encouraged the representatives of the Maltese Deaf Community to meet and lobby their MEPs.

An EUD spokesperson said: “This is a great achievement for Malta and we congratulate the deaf association for their ongoing work on the matter. We also applaud the Maltese Parliament for respecting their citizens and associated linguistic rights.

“This action supports the content embodied within the UNCRPD, which Malta ratified. The UNCRPD clearly states that Sign Languages should be promoted and recognised, and that is exactly what the Maltese Government have done.”

maltese sign language alphabet chartMaltese Sign Language (LSM) is a relatively new language. It developed into its modern form in around 1980 with the establishment of the first Deaf club in Malta, and subsequently with its use in education for the deaf.

The exact history of the language is not fully recorded but it is thought that British Sign Language was used on the island before that when it was a British colony.

It is believed there are 400 deaf people on the island but that only about 100 of them use sign language.

Did you know? The Maltese finger spelling system is one-handed and similar to French Sign Language.