The following works involve Signed Language as a significant aspect of the plot:
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- One of Gangsta's main characters is a deaf Twilight named Nicolas Brown who primarily communicates with his Heterosexual Life-Partner Worick and friends using sign language. Note that Nic can speak, he just hates to do so because it's tiring and comes off ... not quite right.
- Koe no Katachi is about a boy named Shouya who bullied a hearing-impaired girl named Shouko in elementary school and his attempts to reconcile with her in high school. It's actually sponsored by the Japanese Federation of the Deaf and features accurate Japanese Sign Language.
- The Bronze Age Teen Titans version of Jericho communicated only in sign language (his vocal cords had been cut by his father's enemies). If he spoke at all, it was because he was possessing someone. Marv Wolfman also prohibited the use of thought bubbles when writing him in the comic, leading George Perez to get creative when displaying hand gestures. This trait is carried over into his animated appearances.
- Hawkeye is deaf in one ear and while he can communicate normally he is also fluent in ASL. In fact, Deadpool has spoken to him in ASL before.
- Ponies, of course, don't naturally have the digits for the complex movements required of human sign languages, so what is a pony who cannot speak, for whatever reason, do? In The Things Tavi Says, they have Blank Speak, introduced in the chapter called "Signing Things", in which a pony takes straws, pens, or other objects of the like in a magical field or pair of hooves. DJ PON-3 uses it when communicating something too lengthy for writing, which, in turn, is what she does when something is too lengthy for simple gestures. Like real life signed languages, there are speech-capable ponies who know it. DJ Capricorn is the first pony in the story to use it. Twilight starts out more along the lines of My Hovercraft Is Full of Eels, but gets better.
- In the Steven Universe fic Whispers on the Wind, Pearls' racial language is entirely gesture-based. Because many Pearls are forbidden to communicate verbally, this sign language (and its future evolution into transferrable Genetic Memory) forms the backbone of their culture.
- All of the undersea settlers in Dark Life know sign language, because the liquid oxygen substitute they use when diving keeps them from talking out loud.
- In What Women Want, there's a moment when Nick Marshall believes he has stopped hearing women's thoughts. Then, he sees two deaf women using signed language and realizes he can hear what they're saying/thinking.
- Deafula is about a deaf vampire. The film is completely performed in sign language, with no spoken dialog. And yes, it really exists.
- The Crucible, a 2011 Korean film based on the true story of a sex abuse scandal at a school for the hearing-impaired, naturally has a great deal of subtitled KSL (Korean Sign Language).
- Shows up in Shuttle where it's a Chekhov's Skill for the protagonist, used to communicate her kidnapping via a security camera in a convenience store.
- In Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, sign language is the main method of communication among apes.
- In Beyond The Silence (Jenseits Der Stille), the main character's parents are both deaf and hence there is a lot of sign language in the movie.
- The last scene of All About Steve features a group of deaf children stuck in a mine shaft. The sign language is accurate ASL.
- Films featuring Marlee Matlin frequently feature ASL due to her real-life disability such as:
- Children Of A Lesser God (1986) - With the exception of one line in English, Marlee Matlin gives her Oscar-winning performance entirely in American Sign Language. It isn't subtitled; instead, William Hurt's character interprets to himself, out loud for the audience's benefit. When he doesn't, Matlin's expressiveness speaks for itself.
- 4Closed (2003) - The sign language does not play a major role plotwise, but is used throughout the movie as simply something that is part of the family's day-to-day life.
- The Tribe (2014) is set in a boarding school for deaf children and is performed completely in Ukrainian Sign Language, a dialect of Russian Sign Language note .
- Within the Madagascar series are a pair of chimps called Mason and Phil. Phil can't speak normally and relies on Mason to translate for him. Of course, the ASL spoken by Phil is entirely accurate, down to the facial expressions, but what Phil often says is a bit more complicated than what Mason translates, leading to a few bonuses to those who know ASL.
- Speed 2 has a deaf girl as a character in the movie, which causes problems when the ship is hijacked as she can't hear the alarm, and while she does speak verbally with the aid of lip-reading she has a conversation with Alex in ASL at dinner to Annie's surprise.
Alex: I wanted to learn a new language.
- John Wick: Chapter 2 has a Silent Snarker Silent Antagonist mute assassin named Ares who primarily communicates via ASL. The titular protagonist also shows proficiency in ASL so you have the rare instance of two characters having Snark-to-Snark Combat during tense moments entirely through ASL. The use of signed language also means stylized subtitles prop up every time they use ASL so non-ASL-using audiences know what they're saying.
- Forgotten Realms:
- The Drow hand code in R.A. Salvatore's novels (the ones with Drizzt Do'Urden). Drow elves are all taught a language composed entirely of hand signals. Any two Drow can communicate in this way in complete silence as long as they can see one another. And in complete darkness, because of their infravision.
- Some surface Elves in Forgotten Realms, according to Return of the Archwizards, have "finger talk". As opposed to at least part-"hieroglyphical" Drow signs, it's alphabetical language and at least to some degree useable with human hands.
- The Finder's Stone trilogy mentioned thieves' hand cant. Saurials can't speak aloud, so it came in handy, teaching a paladin to understand it.
- The Clan in the Earth's Children communicate primarily by sign language and Body Language, using vocal noises only for names (based on a now-disproved theory that Neandertals had less-capable vocal cords than do Homo sapiens and could not have supported a fully-verbal language). Visual miscommunication is Played for Drama several times in Clan of the Cave Bear, with The Resenter always turning away before someone compliments him.
- The Drasnian secret language, of the Belgariad, by David Eddings. All Drasnians involved in the intelligence community (which apparently means "all of them") are taught a language similar to the Drow version above. On more than one occasion, two such speakers converse verbally about something unimportant while having a completely separate discussion with their hands. The language is specific enough that a speaker can gesture with a recognizably outlandish "accent": when Garion first learns it, Silk notes that his initial use of it is a bit off due to learning it in a cold environment (with finger joints frozen).
- Verghastite, and later some Tanith, members of Gaunt's Ghosts that have been deafened by artillery fire communicate with a form of sign language.
- In one of the Xanth stories, two characters learn American Sign Language as a way to communicate because a Xanthian girl cannot speak any known Mundane language, and the American doesn't know the language of Xanth. They later talk to a deaf man on the bus, because he saw them signing and thought they were deaf, initiating a conversation in American Sign Language.
- In The Wheel of Time, the Aiel have a limited form of "handtalk", with the Maidens of the Spear expanding it into a more complete language.
- In Dune multiple characters use hand signals to give orders to their subordinates. In fact, there are entire sign languages developed separately by both the Atreides and the Harkonnens, as well as even more subtle ones developed by the Bene Gesserit, that allow them to communicate irrelevant information verbally and important stuff with their hands, making sure that even if they are overheard, the enemy won't learn anything.
- In Mirror Friend Mirror Foe, a ninja family is not only trained in that... They can communicate that way while having a verbal conversation on a totally unrelated matter.
- The giant raccoons in Architect of Sleep use sign language to communicate due to having never developed a complicated enough vocal apparatus to support a spoken language. They do punctuate their signs with trills and chirps, though.
- The Isitri from the Star Trek novel Troublesome Minds by Dave Galanter. They communicate by a mixture of telepathy and sign language, and have no spoken language (they have poor hearing, with many being deaf, and their throats and mouths aren't configured for verbal speech). The sign language is used by the few non-telepathic Isitri, and by all Isitri to communicate with aliens.
- The telepathic treecats in Honor Harrington communicate with humans via sign language derived from ASL (modified for the treecat's Four-Fingered Hands), although they can understand spoken word fine.
- The crypt workers in the Sword of Truth's People's Palace. Darken Rahl had their tongues cut out so they wouldn't speak ill of his father, so they developed one of these. Only their boss understands them at all, and poorly at that. He still has his tongue, primarily for this reason. Cara begins to follow what they mean after a length "conversation". When they get their tongues magically restored, they never stop talking. It has less Unfortunate Implications than one might imagine, because these people were all mute against their will, and had no support structure like actual deaf and mute communities, so they would be less inclined to stay mute.
- The Heralds of the Heralds of Valdemar series not only have a hand-based signed language, but also a form of "Hand Signals" involving apparently playing footsie under the table for when they wish to communicate in secret.
- In the Sime Gen world, Householders at a Gen auction will hold hands, the Sime wrapping tentacles around their hands as well, and communicate via subtle pressures and shifts in contact. (There's also a great deal of non-verbal information communicated via manipulating nagers.)
- The second book in A.C. Crispin's StarBridge series deals with a species of crane-like aliens who communicate primarily in sign; vocalization is used only as emphasis or warning...and their voices are so loud and piercing that they do physical damage to fragile human eardrums. The protagonist is a deaf cultural interpreter who is brought in to live with them, meaning that most of the book's dialogue is in sign.
- In PartnerShip, the second book of the The Ship Who ... series, Blaize learns that the native Anglians on the planet he's tending can communicate in sign language, and are reasonably intelligent once they learn they can communicate with humans.
- Joanne Greenberg's novel In This Sign is about a deaf couple navigating everyday life in the hearing world from the 1920s to the late 60s. Sign language is extensively discussed including the fact that it has many nuances and even accents.
- Jane Yolen's The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms has a little mermaid banished from the sea and befriended by a hearing-impaired child who is ashamed of her deafness. She hates sign language, but the mermaid is mute, so it's the only way they can communicate. The three wisdoms are: "have patience, like the sea; move with the rhythm of life around you; and know that all things touch all others."
- In the future setting of The Princes Of The Air, there's a sign language used to give commands to androids, though most people regard it as an obsolete historical curiosity now that androids come equipped with the ability to understand commands spoken in natural language. All androids are still made to understand it, though, in case of situations where speech would be difficult (and in fact are programmed to prioritize signed commands over spoken commands, as they're less susceptible to being misinterpreted), and use it for preference to communicate among themselves. The protagonist learns the sign language in college for an easy course credit, and it becomes unexpectedly useful later on.
- Margalit Fox's nonfiction book, Talking Hands, tells the tale of visiting Al-Sayyid, a remote Arabic town with its own sign language due to the high rate of deafness in the community. About half of the book is explaining the history of why it took so long to realize sign language is language.
Live Action TV
- An episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "Loud As A Whisper", featured Deaf actor Howie Seago performing the role of Riva, a mute character who in the context of the story used an esoteric form of gestural communication known only to him and a few others. In reality, Seago was using his native American Sign Language. When Riva's interpreters were killed, Commander Data had to quickly learn the language and serve as Riva's interpreter. Unfortunately, while Brent Spiner is a wonderful actor, his attempts at signing were hilariously bad, and he was effectively speaking nonsense for the couple of brief moments when Data was actually shown signing on camera. It's a good thing, then, that the majority of the time, Data simply filled the role of voice interpreter.
- Beauty and the Beast had a deaf character who had grown up in the tunnels in "An Impossible Silence" and "Sticks and Stones" who communicated through ASL. The second episode was groundbreaking in that there were several scenes where deaf characters communicated in on-screen silence, with no voiceover or even background music, something the deaf actors involved fought hard for, not wanting someone else's voice to overshadow their own "voices."
- CHiPs: they meet a deaf woman and learn sign language just in time to use it during a chase scene when they were far away from each other and there was construction noise nearby; then they never used it again.
- Shows up a lot in NCIS as Abby and Gibbs both know ASL. Actually turns up again NCIS: Los Angeles when Abby is kidnapped and uses ASL to warn the local team about the room she's in.
- The Korean Drama Can You Hear My Heart centers around several deaf individuals.
- Switched at Birth has several deaf characters (one of them is a main character), and hence uses this a lot.
- Sesame Street included Linda, a deaf woman who communicated entirely in American Sign Language during the course of the series.
- The BBC has a magazine show for deaf people called See Hear, with presenters and interviewees using British Sign Language throughout. Until fairly recently, the BBC would also repeat various prime-time shows in the early hours of the morning with an in-vision sign language interpreter for use as a teaching aid.
- Morning programming on some BBC channels is comprised of repeats with an in-vision sign language interpreter to the side of the screen. There are also signed broadcasts throughout the day on the dedicated news channel.
- This still happens on Cbeebies, the morning's shows are repeated from 3 til 5 with sign language.
- There's also Something Special on Cbeebies, which is about teaching children Makaton (a simplified sign language, distinct from BSL).
- A children's show that aired in the late 90s/early 2000s called What's Your Sign? had one hearing host and one deaf host, and everything spoken was also said in ASL, to help teach kids sign language.
- There's also public television's 2006-2008 Signing Time! and a number of programs for children and adults on local and community access TV beginning in the early 1970s.
- Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye was about a deaf detective and included at least one other deaf character almost every episode.
- In the 2009 CBBC 11 part series My Almost Famous Family youngest child Martha is deaf and what ever she 'says' appears on the screen, the other members of the family sign when speaking to her and when there's something they want her to 'hear' when she's in the room.
- The West Wing featured deaf pollster Joey Lucas (played by deaf actress Marlee Matlin), as a recurring character, always accompanied by her interpreter Kenny. This led to copious amounts of ASL flying around, occasionally spreading to main characters:
Sam: Joey puts together a decent snapshot.Lisa: Which one's Joey?Sam: Kenny, can we get Joey a second?Kenny: [signs] Can you come over for a second?Joey: [signs] Just a minute, please.Sam: [signs] Thank you.Lisa: When did you pick that up??Sam: I just said "thanks"... could he go easy with the pictures?
- Fargo features deaf hitman Mr. Wrench (played by deaf actor Russell Harvard) and his interpreter/partner Mr. Numbers. The two communicate in mostly unsubtitled ASL, leaving a lot of jokes and arguments exclusively for people who know ASL.
- Al Jazeera Arabic has an in-vision (Arabic) Sign Language interpreter on some of its broadcasts. Since (given that Al Jazeera serves the Middle East) they tend to report on wars a lot, even non-deaf viewers of Al Jazeera Arabic can give a decent imitation of the Arabic sign for "air strikes."
- ER had Peter Benton, whose son Reese (played by deaf actor Matthew Watkins) was deaf. Peter initially looks into surgeries and other methods to give Reese a chance to hear, but later accepts it and begins to learn Sign.
- In the music video for Savage Garden's "Crash and Burn," Darren Hays sings and signs the final verse.
- Parts of Laurie Anderson's video for "O Superman" have Anderson signing the lyrics in the corner of the screen.
- "Weird Al" Yankovic's video for "Dare To Be Stupid" has a woman in the corner of the screen signing the lyrics "It's like spitting on a fish / It's like barking up a tree".
- In the raw footage of Donny Osmond's appearance in Al's video for "White and Nerdy", Osmond can be seen fingerspelling when the phrase "ROTFLOL" comes up in the lyrics; Osmond's two oldest brothers are deaf and one of his nephews is hard of hearing.
- And for People who understand BSL, the video for Faithless' God is a DJ is pretty much sung and signed by Maxi Jazz. Only one small part with an argument being signed is not a direct translation.
- Florent Pagny's Deliberately Monochrome video for "Savoir Aimer" (Know How to Love), consists of a single shot of him signing the lyrics of the song.
- UK band Red Box was lauded in the mid-80s for their video for "Lean On Me (Ah-Li-Ayo)," which featured a BSL interpreter on the lower right side of the screen.
- A running gag in the filk music of Tom Smith and others at conventions is to have a sign language interpreter, generally the talented Judi Miller, try to interpret songs on the fly.
- The American Author's song "Pride" has a music video featuring deaf actress Sandra Mae Frank interpreting most of the song in ASL.
- Ingrid Michaelson released an alternate music video for Hell No, with herself and a Deaf/hard-of-hearing cast: Josh Castille, Miles Barbee, Daniel Durant, Treshelle Edmond, and Ren, signing the song. It was directed by (hearing) Michael Arden, who had worked with the aforementioned actors and actresses for the 2015/2016 English/ASL revival of Spring Awakening in Los Angeles and on Broadway.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- The Sisters of Silence from use hand signals to communicate, one form for normal conversation and one for the battlefield.
- Averted with the gretchin who crew ork artillery and eventually go deaf. They do use sign language... but it's a very limited one, as there are only so many signs a gretchin can carry.
- Dungeons & Dragons.
- Star Wars: Saga Edition had handsignals in one splatbook handled elegantly as a language. Well worth the cost, if you're playing that sort of campaign.
- The RPGs also originated the idea that twi'leks would use their "lekku" (long, semi-mobile "head-tails") to communicate with one another in secret. In some sources, bothans could do something similar by rippling their fur in various patterns — unsurprisingly, both species had long associations with crime and/or espionage and would use their sign languages as a kind of subtle Spy Speak.
- Paranoia has Twitchtalk for conversing silently to comrades. It works as well as everything else in this setting.
- In Gene Storm not all mutants have vocal cords so "Finger Talk" is something of a wasteland Common Tongue.
- Deaf West Theatre is a Los Angeles based company that aims to give exposure to deaf performers and present both original and adapted works in ASL. Their most popular and notable accomplishment is the 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, which used the presence of deaf characters to augment the play's themes of miscommunication and alienation. It also incorporated the policies for the deaf enacted in education at the time, such as forbidding sign language and forcing the students to speak. The play was eventually moved to Broadway, and successfully gained a nomination for a Tony Award as well.
- Within Phantom Brave, Castille realizes that Putties are intelligent, but unable to speak, and teaches one sign language to communicate.
- That Deaf Guy is all about the day-to-day life of a deaf man, his translator wife, and their CODA (Child Of Deaf Adult) son. Aspects of signed language and Deaf culture are central conceits.
- Runewriters gives us Tarri, The Heart of the party, who's deaf and communicates in a language represented as ASL.
- One minor character in Girls with Slingshots is a deaf woman named Melody. She frequently communicates with signs, and it's used for Bilingual Bonus at one point.
- In the The Saga of Tuck, Tuck is fluent in ASL because he had communication problems when he was a child, so his family and Mike learned it as well. This becomes very handy to secretly talk in plain sight without listeners and to befriend a deaf girl in Seasons.
- At the Whateley Academy, signed language is used by a significant subset of the student population to deal with people whose mutations leave them unable to speak, or unable to speak safely, although the details are often glossed over.
- It is explained that Razorback signs in both AUSLAN and ASL, because he learned the former first, and that he's had to make some adjustments to both because of his saurian digits.
- In The Little Mermaid episode, "When You Wish Upon a Starfish" Ariel meets a deaf mermaid girl named Gabriella who spoke with signed language while her octopus friend interpreted for her.