A History of Auslan Dictionaries

Auslan Dictionary History In Australia

We have been a keen collectors of Historical Australian Sign Language publications for a great many years now and have compiled this summary to the best of our knowledge. It is a timeline of publications, yet also serves to summarise the evolution of both the language and the educational ideals and philosophy, which naturally, has also deeply influenced Auslan. Wherever possible we have added notes about the publication, to help you to also understand the history behind the publication and the language. - Lee Bilby

Auslan History

The first group to bring Sign Language to Australia as a formal educational language were the Catholic Church, which initially was based on Irish (one handed) sign language. A very detailed history of this period is being compiled with the help of Sr Philonena Thomas, who was involved in the Warratah and Castle Hill schools for the deaf in NSW (both established in the early 1900's). Suffice to say that the Catholic Sisters and Brothers were very influential in the education of the deaf and as such the beginnings of a signing deaf community in Australia. They produced a number of books documenting their language, which I have been honored to review with the sisters. It is worth pointing out that the Catholic schools never used Signed English.

Australian Sign Language Dictionaries

There have been many books covering signs used in this evolving language. The earliest we have found is 1943, but then there is a 28 year jump to 1971. If you know of any titles we may have missed, please contact us with as much detail as possible. We have intentionally omitted "Baby Sign" and Makaton products from this list. There is an increasing trend towards using video footage, whether delivered via video cassette, DVD, CD-Rom or website as this is a visual moving language, but the ability to take a book almost anywhere, without batteries, means that printed books remain important.

1943How to Converse with the Deaf - in Sign Language
Teachers of the Schools at Waratah and Castle Hill, NSW
Contained the single-handed signed alphabet, a section of prayers and lastly a vocabulary section describing around 1100 signs, maybe 1/4 of which are accompanied by black and white photographs. It stated "As used in the Australian Catholic Schools for the Deaf"
1971Aid to Communication with the Deaf
Victorian School for Deaf Children
Included approximately 1000 signs used at the school in Victoria, which were also a reflection of the signs used by the Victorian Deaf community at the time. This publication also suggested finger spelling ‘ed’ after ‘walk’ for ‘walked’ and so on, with the idea of sign ‘accompanying speech’ ....
1976Let´s Talk With Our Hands
Garth Smith, Ann Kentwell & Rose Dyson
Subtitled: ‘N.S.W. dictionary of fingerspelling & signs for communication with deaf children.’ Featured black and white photgraphs. Published by North Rocks Central School for Deaf Children
1976Word for Word - Sydney
1982Dictionary of Australasian Signs: First Edition
Victorian School for Deaf Children
This dictionary included 2,200 signs. It evolved from the ‘Australian Sign Language Development Project’. A group of Deaf and hearing people representing all states and territories in Australia, with representation from New Zealand being added later; aiming to standardise education of the...
1983Emergency signing dictionary for communicating with the deaf
Northern Territory Department of Education
A selection of signs from the ‘Dictionary of Australasian Signs’, edited by Brian Reynolds, editor of ‘Signs of Our Time’.
1987A preliminary signing dictionary of Australian sign language (Auslan)
Trevor Johnston
A highly technical/academic work, very difficult to use without knowing the abbreviation system for handshapes, orientations and positions. Only occasional use of drawn images within the text. It was not bound, suggesting there was only ever a very limited number of copies made. The copy we found...
1988Technical Signs For Mathematics
Pam Spicer and Ian Rodgers
This title used hand drawn images from ‘Auslan Dictionary’ by Trevor Johnston and another ‘Auslan Dictionary’ by Ian Rogers. The signs and knowledge came from deaf student fluent in Australian Sign Trevor Maggs, David Parker, Margaret Stewart, Paul Briscoe and Shane Mundy)
1989Auslan Dictionary
Trevor Johnston
This publication sort to expand on the previous dictionaries, now documenting 3500 signs, however Signed English signs and principles were still documented and strongly adopted in Australian education and Deaf community language. "Auslan signers regularly sprinkle their signing with...
1989Signs for Our Time (a dictionary of Religious Signs)
Barry R. and Jan E. Knights
Dictionary containing partial line drawings of religious signs, edited by Brian Reynolds, principal of the Victorian School for Deaf Children, and Director of Silent Partners Ministries (Baptist)
1990A Picture Dictionary of Australasian Signs - For Young Children
Education Department of South Australia
This book used the hand drawn images from the ‘Dictionary of Australasian Signs’, line art and performance descriptions with a vocabulary suitable for young children. We wish this had been around for our kids, but the book was never widely available. Approximately 900 words.
1990Dictionary of Australasian Signs: Second Edition
Victorian School for Deaf Children
Again this publication resulted from national consultation with both the deaf community and their hearing teachers; resulting in an additional 560 signs. At the time it was thought that adding ‘Signed English’ signs to assist English literacy was advantageous and desirable. Many of these...
1996Technical Signs for Computer Terms
David Parker and Adam Schembri
This spiral bound book includes photo based images for signs associated with everyday more complex technical and computing terms in alphabetical order. It also includes signs for common symbols like {, ~, !, @ and others.
1998Signs Of Australia
Peter Wilkin, and Trevor Johnston
This was the "Auslan Dictionary" of 1989, revised to become a comprehensive dictionary of 3 to 4 thousand drawn line art images. Signs where ordered by hand shape, accompanied by english meanings for the sign. This made the dictionary sign>english useful, but those working from english>sign found...
1998The VSDC Dictionary of Auslan (English to Auslan)
Brian Bernal and Lyn Wilson
A reflection of the changing times, this publication included 3100 photographed Auslan signs (signed English was removed) and noted the divergence of sign usage between southern and Northern parts of Australia that had evolved primarily around the two deaf schools.
2003Survival Guide to Auslan - A beginners pocket dictionary of Australian Sign Language
Trevor Johnston and Adam Schembri
The 500 line art sign images within this book are presented in alphabetical order and include a description of how to perform the sign.
2004Dictionary of Auslan: with Regional Sign Variations
Brian Bernal and Lyn Wilson
Originally "Dictionary of Australasian Signs" by Victorian College for the Deaf the title was updated with colour photographs and regional variations, revised and re-published by Deaf Children Australia (formally VSDC - Victorian Services for Deaf Children, an offshoot of VCD).
2004The Auslan Phrase Book - A Reference to Workplace Auslan Signs
Deaf Children Australia
This book was designed to be a quick reference to common workplace signs and concepts for deaf employees and their colleagues. It contains signs from the ‘Dictionary of Auslan’ selected by DCA's employment service ‘Deaf Employment Australia’
2006Trainers Auslan Reference (Inc Dictionary)
Lee Bilby
A folder which contained not just a dictionary and index, but a set of worksheets, posters and information packs designed for classroom use. The dictionary contained almost 1000 signs and the index over 5,000 english words. These sections were updated every six months until the major revision...
2007Auslan Children's Picture Dictionary - Volume 1
Lee Bilby
The first of a series of dictionaries designed for children. With 260 drawn outline images and colour clipart. Listings where arranged by topics in such a way that a child could navigate the book without needing to read. Spiral Bound.
2007Auslan Children's Picture Dictionary - Volume 2
Lee Bilby
The first of a series of dictionaries designed for children. With 310 drawn outline images and colour clipart. Spiral Bound.
2009Auslan Children's Picture Dictionary - Volume 1 - Second Edition
Lee Bilby
The second edition added descriptions to each linsting. Now with over 300 drawn outline images and colour clipart. Topics were; - Appliances, My Family - At the Circus - At the Park/Playground - Colours - Creatures with Wings - Drinks, Fruit and Vegetables - Everyday signs...
2009Auslan Children's Picture Dictionary - Volume 2 - Second Edition
Lee Bilby
Now with over 320 drawn outline images and colour clipart. Entries arranged by topics: - Describing People - Emotions and Feelings - Furniture - Insects and Bugs - Native Australian Animals - Numbers 1 to 10 - Occupations - Size Texture and appearance - The...
2009Auslan Children's Picture Dictionary - Volume 3
Lee Bilby
Over 480 drawn outline images and colour clipart. Entries are arranged by topics, but with some pages devoted to the discussion of a topic so that grammar can also be understood.
2009The Auslan Dictionary: for Teachers, Parents and Professionals
Lee Bilby
Originally published as a reference section in the "Trainer's Auslan Reference" of 2007, this was expanded to become it's own title. Now with over 1400 signs, english order listings included drawn outline images along with clipart, descriptions, other english words associated with the signs...
2010Auslan for Your Workplace
Lee Bilby
Over 560 drawn outline images and 100 phrases. Includes sections introducing sign language covering such things as greetings, making requests and over 100 phrases.
2010Trainers Auslan Reference
Lee Bilby
A folder containing a dictionary and index, nd also set of worksheets, posters and information packs designed for classroom use. The dictionary and index sections are identical to "The Auslan Dictionary for Teachers, Parents and Professionals".
2023Understanding Descriptors In Auslan
Lee Bilby
This new book uses the topics People and Animals to enhance descriptive communication in Auslan It covers advanced concepts including: - Emphasis, Extent, Exaggeration, Enactment and Enthusiasm to modify a signs meaning - The role of facial expressions and the body - The return...
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