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What is ABSL?

September 6, 2007

Written by Bug

What is ABSL? It is Al-Sayyid Bedouin Sign Language. ABSL used by about 150 Deaf and Hearing people in the community of Bedouin at the desert of Negev in Southern Israel. Al-Savvid is a smallest town where everyone “speaks” sign language. That was almost like everybody who used sign language in Martha’s Vineyard from 1700’s to 1900’s. Al-Sayyid as a veritable island of the Deaf, is a place that few outsiders have ever seen, and that no journalist has ever before reported on.

Margalit Fox is a New York Times journalist originally trained as a linguist. Fox joined four linguists (Wendy Sandler, Mark Aronoff, Carol Padden, and Irit Meir) on a journey to a remote Bedouin community in Israel where the villagers speak sign language. She wrote a book about the Deaf and Hearing villiagers and their ABSL. Her book is Talking Hands: What Sign Language Reveals about the Mind. It should be interesting to read. Margalit has written numerous articles on language, culture and ideas for The Times, New York Newsday, Variety and other publications. Talking Hands is her first book.

It is unclear whether ABSL will survive because many of the younger generation are now exposed to Israeli Sign Language in school, and marriage outside the community is growing, it is unclear whether ABSL will survive.

More information about the book, including excerpts, reviews, photographs and news of public appearances, is available on the Web site. Learn more about this interesting book click:


To order the book. click:

Categories: Deaf History
  1. Stephen Hardy
    September 6, 2007 at 4:54 am

    This is a very good book to read and I would recommend ASL teachers to read this book. This is another part of the Martha’s Vineyard and this time the linguists are focusing in cognitive language development to tell us how the El Sayyid clan developed language over time.

  2. human
    September 6, 2007 at 6:57 am

    Many years ago, I had the pleasure of teaching in Isreal and all my students were Bedouin. Thank you for bringing this book to my attention.

  3. Lisa Marie
    September 6, 2007 at 8:18 am

    I am impressed by your blog and the comments.

    I’d like to acquire one because I used to be ASL teacher for high school students and Stephen recommended for ASL teachers to take it, so I’d like to read the book if I’d teach again in the future. It’ll be worth to explore the book. Just finished writing the title and author’s name. Need to get off my butt, I have been looping into the vlogs and blogs on the deafread.com, but FB is on my daily basis! ;)))

  4. September 6, 2007 at 8:28 am

    Wonderful to hear about another Martha’s Vineyard community. I question the “purity” of the Bedouin Sign Language, said to arise without influence of other languages. Any hearing person that picks it up and uses it with Deaf people is going to have influence of the spoken Arabic syntax included with it.

    The only way to get a “pure” sign language would to develop it entirely within a totally Deaf community with no other language, even spoken, in the immediate area.

  5. September 6, 2007 at 10:32 am

    Oh, Diamrez, it is pure simply because ISL had no inroads till few decades after. It was there 70 years then the village became mainstreamed into Israel and the children went to Israelis’ schools with ISL signing teachers. However, ABSL still developed in time for linguists to go there and study it for various linguistics studies’ questions. It is a marvelous read!

  6. daniella
    December 1, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    can someone please contact me from the israeli deaf community.
    i live in ma’ale adumim. i know a bit of ASL, as my uncle, aunt and cousin are deaf.

    i feel at home around the deaf, even in hebrew, though, i am frustrated because i don’t know hebrew sign.

    if there is anyone in israel that will answer me… please email me immediately. i am trying to teach my 2.5yr old daughter american sign and could use some help with that.

    i’m an american who has been living in israel for nearly 15yrs.

    thank you. todah rabah.


  7. March 20, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Something is not right! Do you truly think the Deaf community would buy your story? How do you expcet them to believe that it’s necessary to have financial expertise to be Director? Unless it is a tiny agency, you can always get someone to work under the Director to take care of the financial aspects for the agency. You need someone Deaf who knows what its like, to understand, be knowlegable about their rights, etc! A Deaf Director would be the best bet, nothing to lose!

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