Bookkeeping: Belgian Sign Language

This entry has been retired and is featured here only for bookkeeping purposes. Either the entry has been replaced with one or more more accurate entries or it has been retired because it was based on a misunderstanding to begin with.

Retired in ISO 639-3: Split into Langue des signes de Belgique Francophone [sfb], and Vlaamse Gebarentaal [vgt]

  • Change request: 2006-001
  • ISO 639-3: bvs
  • Name: Belgian Sign Language
  • Reason: split
  • Effective: 2007-07-18

Excerpt from change request document:

There are clear distinctions in the sociolinguistic identies of the two linguistic communities which parallel the larger sociological and cultural distinctions between the Flanders (northern) and Walloon (sourthern) regions of Belgium. The actual linguistic differences are apparently less clear, yet the trend within the Deaf communities in these two regions is clearly toward establishing separate linguistic identities for the signed languages of the northern and southern parts of Belgium. For example:

"In the past the term Belgian Sign Language was commonly used, because one believed there were more resemblances between the two sign languages used in Flanders and Wallonia than between those used in Flanders and the Netherlands. Also, the first sign language research in Belgium was carried out by Flemish and Walloon researchers together. In their publications they always mentioned Belgian Sign Language. Deaf people themselves spoke of signs or sign language without really specifying which one. A few years ago, the name changed. Because of the lack of sufficient linguistic evidence that would enable us to speak of two completely different sign languages, the compromise Flemish Belgian Sign Language was chosen to refer to the variant used in Flanders. However, because of the split of NAVEKADOS (the former Belgian Deaf Association) into a Flemish and a Walloon organization, reduced contact between the Flemish and Walloon Deaf and the different processes of standardization, Deaf people got more and more dissatisfied with the term Flemish Belgian and wanted to change it into Flemish. FEVLADO [the Flemish Deaf association,] also advocated this change at an Annual General Meeting in October 2000. This is why from that moment on the term Flemish Sign Language is used in all publications concerning the Flemish Deaf community and their mother tongue." [].

"In short, up until about fifteen years ago, people were usually signing, talking, and writing about Belgian Sign Language. Now, many Deaf people feel intuitively that the signed language used in Flanders is very different from the one used in the Netherlands (even though the two hearing communities speak the same language, Dutch) but that it is closer to the signed language used in Wallonia (although the Walloon hearing community speaks French). Right now, not enough linguistic evidence has been collected to know whether the differences between Flanders and Wallonia are big enough to allow talk about two different signed languages. Hence, as a good Belgian compromise, the term Flemish Belgian Sign Language was used in recent years for the signed language variants used in Flanders. However, because of the split of the national Deaf federation into two regional federations, the fewer and fewer contacts among both organizations and their members, and the separate standardization processes, most Deaf people in Flanders prefer to talk about Flemish Sign Language. This term is also the term that was adopted by Fevlado at its last annual general meeting (AGM) in October 2000. At that AGM, the participants were asked to vote for either the term Flemish Sign Language or the term Flemish Belgian Sign Language. The first option was nearly unanimously elected. Even though this choice is obviously more politically than linguistically motivated, I want to respect the opinion of the Flemish Deaf Association and its members and will talk about Flemish Sign Language from now on... [Mieke Van Herreweghe, 2002. "Turn-Taking Mechanisms and Active Participation in Meetings with Deaf and Hearing Participants in Flanders", in Turn-Taking, Fingerspelling, and Contact in Signed Languages, Ceil Lucas, ed., available online at]

Regarding the situation in French-speaking Belgium (Wallonia and the major parts of Brussels), in the early 1980s, the term "Langue Française Signée" (Signed French Language) was used, then it changed into "Langue des Signes Belge" (Belgian Sign Language) or "Langue des Signes Française de Belgique" (French Sign Language of Belgium). However, Deaf people have become quite unsatisfied with these terms and thus, another term was advocated. Since then, Langue des Signes Belge Francophone or Langue des Signes de Belgique Francophone has been used during formal meetings although most deaf people still refer their language as "sign language". There was never a compromise on which term to use. Therefore, sign language researchers hired to write a report on the feasibility of an official recognition of the sign language used in French-speaking Belgium chose the term "Langue des Signes de Belgique Francophone" and an abbreviation which reflected the close relationship between this sign language and French Sign Language: LSFB.

According to Dr. Vermeerbergen, comprehension of LSFB by signers of VGT varies according to the person, the region from which the two signers are from, and the topic of conversation. For example, older Deaf from Flanders understand LSFB better than younger Deaf, who have had less contact with signers from Walloonia. This suggests that the comprehension is based on learned bidialectalism rather than inherent intelligibility. Those from central areas in Flanders understand LSBF better than those from peripheral areas, which is indication that the sign language situation in Belgium is in some respects a dialect chain which the Deaf communities in both regions have decided to break into two separate languages along political lines.

The Parliament of French-speaking Belgium recognised LSFB in a decree of October 2003, which acknowledges the existing internal variation and advocates allowing it to develop toward standardization along its own natural evolutionary path. The decree is available at Official recognition of VGT by the government in Flanders was granted in April 2006 ( The proposed text of the decree is available at

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