Sign language

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Communication using sign language

A sign language is a visually perceptible natural language , particularly of non-hearing and hard hearing people to communicate is used. Communication is based on a combination of gestures , facial expressions , words spoken silently and posture. These elements are combined into sentences and sentence sequences.

Sign languages ​​belong to the typology of strongly inflected or agglutinating languages . A sign can consist of several meaningful components or morphemes . Therefore they have a very flexible word order in the sentence.

In deafblind people, the signs are perceived through the haptic perception of hand movements and hand shapes. In addition, there are certain cultures in which non-deaf people also use or used a sign language, e.g. As the female members of the Australian Warlpiri -Volksstammes and the indigenous peoples in North America . To be distinguished from sign languages ​​are manual coding systems (sign symbols) that are used by people who have difficulties with spoken language due to another impairment, such as supported communicators and people with mutism or from the autism spectrum .

It is not certain how many sign languages ​​there are worldwide. The 2013 edition of the journal Ethnologue lists 137 sign languages. Dialects are not included in this list - for example, there are 12 dialects in Switzerland.

The essence of sign language and its relationship to spoken language

The sign for German in some sign languages ​​symbolizes a spiked hat and used to mean “ policeman ” in the German-speaking area .
For comparison: The DGS signs for German in sign writing .

The signs are phonologically broken down into four parameters, which are further analyzed phonemically : hand configuration, hand orientation, movement execution and location of movement. Many signs are strongly inflected . Information can be incorporated pronominally (through various visible forms) in a single sign, e.g. B. in the DGS the verb gesture, glossed with ICH-BUCH-GGBEN-DIR-SCHNELL includes the direction of movement from “I” to “you”, and that fast, and the hand configuration indicates holding an imaginary book. If modified in the movement from “you” to “I”, you-BOOK-GIVE-ME-FAST results. The gesture can be modified with other hand shapes to indicate what is being given e.g. B. a thick or thin book, a bottle, a soccer ball or golf ball, a piece of paper, a stack of books, etc. In addition, there is the different orientation of the hand or hands, whether the object is transferred horizontally or vertically. A total of seven parts of meaning can be recognized in this single sign: subject, recipient (singular or plural), its locality (left, right, near or far), object, size or quantity of the object, verbial adverb, once or repeated. In addition, there are additional meanings due to parts of the face and head movements, e.g. B. "gladly" or "reluctantly" can be shown with it. In addition to inflection, this is also referred to as " incorporation " in linguistics .

Because the signs can be broken down and structured within the sentence, sign languages ​​must be viewed as independent and fully-fledged languages . As is often mistakenly believed, they cannot be regarded as derived from the spoken language of their surroundings. The name of the sign language in Germany, German Sign Language (DGS), does not mean German in sign form, but sign language as used by deaf speakers in Germany.

The gestures formed by the hands form the content of a sentence. In addition, movements of the upper body and face play an important role. Especially facial expressions are used to encode grammar. Many grammatical function words, such as if or if, are only expressed in the face. Since grammar is mainly expressed through facial expressions, sign language speakers are also more likely to look into the eyes than the hands.

Sign languages ​​differ from country to country and even within a country. In the German-speaking countries, the German Sign Language (DGS), which is used in Germany and Luxembourg, the Austrian Sign Language (ÖGS) and the German-Swiss Sign Language (DSGS) are used. The sign language used in Liechtenstein is closely related to the DSGS and can therefore be viewed as a DSGS dialect. Within Switzerland, the DSGS knows five different dialects (Zurich, Bern, Basler, Lucerne and St. Gallen dialect), while Switzerland also knows the Langue des signes Suisse romande (LSF-SR) with five dialects and the Lingua dei segni della Svizzera italiana (LIS-SI) with two varieties.

The most widespread is the American Sign Language (ASL), used in North America, on Caribbean islands except Cuba, in parts of Central America and in some African and Asian nations.

Many signs in the various sign languages ​​are similar to one another because of their iconic or motivated origin. Many inflections in the signs are similar in almost all sign languages. Understanding from below is not always given. The historical relationship between sign languages ​​is decisive for understanding, so users of sign languages ​​from the same sign language family can communicate to a certain extent. Since most of the sign languages ​​in continental Europe belong to the French sign language family, mutual understanding is more or less possible there. International Sign , Gestuno, or International Sign-Talk , which some consider pidgin languages , are used on international occasions .

Sign languages ​​are - as indicated by numerous studies with imaging processes - processed in the same brain regions in which spoken languages ​​are processed. From this it is concluded that human language can no longer be defined simply as a spoken language system.

Sign writing

Sign language has so far not been practically written for everyday use , although there are several approaches to this. For scientific purposes there are " notation systems " such as B. the HamNoSys (Hamburg notation system); these work z. B. with the decomposition of each sign in hand shape, hand position, execution area, movement execution etc. and respective symbol representations.

The sign writing SignWriting developed by Valerie Sutton is used by students in the State Education Center for the Hearing Impaired Osnabrück and in Nicaragua .

Signs are more often written down by glossy transcription, a process in which single words or hyphenated word strings of spoken language serve as codes for signs , usually written out in capital letters . This procedure is quite incomplete and cannot reproduce everything that is sent out by sign speakers. In addition, the word codes are not always standardized.

Manual coding systems for the German language

German finger alphabet

The so-called manual-visual coding systems of the German language must be distinguished from sign language:

Sign language in national laws

There have been and are efforts to enshrine sign languages ​​in law. In Sweden , the Swedish sign language was recognized as a minority language as early as 1981 . Uganda , too , had its sign language constitutionally confirmed before the year 2000. Since February 27, 2005, it has been constitutionally recognized in the Swiss canton of Zurich that sign language is also part of the freedom of language . In July 2005, the Austrian parliament included sign language as a recognized minority language in the federal constitution (Article 8, Paragraph 3). Since 2006, New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) has been the official language of New Zealand alongside English and Māori .

Sign language interpreter

Sign language interpreter giving a lecture

Sign language interpreters interpret in both directions for deaf and hearing people. It happens that sign language dominates in a group and interprets are provided for the hearing minority who are not competent in sign language (called voicen ), e.g. B. at deaf conferences. There are also interpreters who interpret from one sign language into the other, or from another spoken language into the local sign language (e.g. French into Swiss-German sign language). Sign language interpreters who interpret between two sign languages ​​are often deaf themselves.


In Germany, at the latest since 2002, when the Disability Equality Act (BGG) and the Communication Aid Ordinance (KHV) came into force, the right of deaf people to have sign language interpreters (especially at authorities, police and courts, but also at work) and other communication aids (such as text interpreters ) regulated by law.

Training to become a sign language interpreter is offered as a full-time course, for example at the University of Hamburg , at the Magdeburg-Stendal University of Applied Sciences , at the West Saxon University of Zwickau , at the Humboldt University in Berlin, at the University of Applied Sciences in Landshut , as part-time studies such as at the University of Fresenius in Idstein or as part-time training at the Bavarian Institute for the Promotion of Communication for People with Hearing Impairments in Nuremberg and the Institute for Sign Language in Baden-Württemberg in Winnenden . Further training courses have been set up so that long-standing sign language interpreters without training have the opportunity to gain further qualifications. In German university policy, sign language is classified as a minor subject .

Since the end of 2006, a qualifying degree as a sign language interpreter has been required in many areas. The Office for Teacher Education in Darmstadt and the Bavarian Ministry of Culture offer a state examination . Proof of training is not required for the state examination, but many years of professional experience are required. The academic diplomas of the universities and technical colleges can, on request and for a fee, be equated with the state examinations.

The Federal Association of Sign Language Interpreters in Germany (BGSD) e. V. is the professional representation of the sign language interpreters organized in Germany.

German Switzerland

In German-speaking Switzerland, the Professional Association of Sign Language Interpreters of German-speaking Switzerland (bgd) represents the interests of sign language interpreters. The training takes place at the University of Curative Education Zurich (FH).

Machine translation

In July 2017, a glove developed at the University of California was presented that analyzes the gestures of a hand and can for the first time translate the ABC of signs into written language.

In addition, the company SignAll is developing a system that is intended to enable spontaneous communication between a deaf person and a hearing person using automated translation technology. According to the description, the system designed for the US spoken or sign language ASL records all aspects of sign language, including hand shapes, facial expressions and relative positions of the body parts.

Sign language avatar

The translation of texts into sign language by means of software became possible for the first time with the SiMAX 3D Avatar from the Austrian company called Sign Time GmbH. Both the texts and the signs are translated into different languages ​​and serve as a support for the dissemination of information.

Communication with animals

Roger Fouts trained the chimpanzee Washoe , who was born in Africa in 1965, to use a total of 250 signs in the American sign language ASL , trying to establish communication between humans and animals. Also with other animals, u. a. Bonobos and gorillas, such spectacular dressage tests were carried out, some animals allegedly acquired a vocabulary of over 1000 words.

Other researchers, however, examined original sign and body signals from great apes and concluded that humans also used a sign language before they spoke. Your observation supports an older theory that sign language was the most primitive form of human communication.

See also



Preservation of the Sign Language (1913)

A selection of films that use sign language.

Feature films

Movie title appearance
Silent lips 1948 Melodrama by Jean Negulesco about a deaf young woman who was taught sign language in 19th century Canada.
The wolf boy 1970 François Truffaut's literary film about the real life of the wolf boy Victor von Aveyron .
Our new brother 1985 Children's film by Robert Michael Louis about the friendship between an escaped orangutan and a deaf boy (original title: A Summer to Remember ).
God's forgotten children 1986 Melodrama about a young teacher at a school for deaf young people who falls in love with a deaf woman (Oscar for leading actress Marlee Matlin ).
The piano 1993 Jane Campion's film about the self-discovery process of a married, silent mother who enters into a forbidden love affair in 19th century New Zealand ( Golden Palm of Cannes ; Oscar for leading actress Holly Hunter ).
Four weddings and one death 1994 British comedy in which Charles ( Hugh Grant ) communicates with his deaf brother David in British Sign Language (BSL) .
Mr. Holland's Opus 1995 An episode in the fictional life story of the composer and music teacher Glenn Holland (Oscar nomination for Richard Dreyfuss ) deals with the difficult relationship with his deaf son, for whose love for music Holland initially cannot understand.
Beyond Silence 1996 Drama by Caroline Link about a hearing daughter of deaf parents who discovers the world of music ( German film award for leading actress Sylvie Testud ).
Beyond silence 1996 Fred Gerber's drama about an abused, deaf young woman who is taken in by a social worker and learns sign language (original title: Breaking Through or After the Silence ).
Silent love 2001 Drama by Christoph Schaub about a deaf nun ( Emmanuelle Laborit ).
Dear Frankie 2004 Dear Frankie (Original title: Dear Frankie ) is a British drama film about a family and the relationship of a deaf boy with his absent father.
Black 2005 Sanjay Leela Bhansali's drama tells the story of a young, deafblind girl who learns sign language ( Filmfare Award for leading actress Rani Mukherjee and the film).
The Stone Family - No Engagement! 2005 Christmas comedy movie in which the eldest son introduces his fiancée to the family. One of his younger brothers is deaf and homosexual.
Babel 2006 In a narrative thread from Alejandro González Iñárritu's film, a young, deaf Japanese woman tries to compensate for the rejection of her fellow human beings with drugs, alcohol or parties ( Oscar nomination for actress Rinko Kikuchi ).
Orphan - the orphan 2009 Horror film in which the little daughter Max is almost deaf.
Do you understand the Béliers? 2014 Film comedy by Éric Lartigau about the life of a deaf family whose father, who communicates in sign language, wants to become mayor and whose hearing daughter is aiming for a career as a singer.
The little death. A comedy about sex 2014 Australian comedy in which, in one of the storylines, the deaf Sam ( TJ Power ) tries to call a sex hotline through the sign language interpreter Monica ( Erin James ).
A silent voice 2016 Anime film by Naoko Yamada . In this film, the protagonists Shōya Ishida and Shōko Nishimiya communicate in Japanese sign language, among other things .
A quiet place 2018 In the horror thriller by John Krasinski , a family communicates exclusively in sign language, as every tiny sound could attract extraterrestrial beings.

Short or documentary films

  • DEF (2003): 13-minute short film by Ian Clark about a deaf boy from an English housing estate who dreams of becoming a rap star .
  • I have to tell you something (2006): Documentary by Martin Nguyen about four-year-old twin brothers, one of whom is deaf and the other hearing. This documentary shows how the two understand each other, how the parents cope with the new situation and how they imagine the future of the deaf boy.
  • The Magic Lamp - A fairytale children's film in Austrian sign language (2008), 20-minute children's film (real and stop-motion) in sign language about a little girl who finds a magic lamp and a jinn and spends a few days with him until she gives him freedom
  • Verbotene Sprache (2009), portrait of the sign language artist Rolf Lanicca, 40 min.
  • A single duet (2010), 10-minute film by Kai Stöckel about a deaf homeless person who wants to see his daughter again, starring Christopher Buhr.
  • Seidene Stille (2011), medium-length film about a deaf love story with Rafael-Evitan Grombelka and Kassandra Wedel.

TV Shows

  • Switched at Birth (2011), TV series about confusing two newborn girls, Bay and Daphne. Daphne lost her hearing as a child. When the girls are teenagers, the two families get to know each other and the non-ASL speaking family learns American sign language. Several of the main characters in the series are deaf and in many scenes ASL (American Sign Language) is spoken by one or all of the interlocutors, ASL is subtitled in the series.
  • Sue Thomas: FBI (original title: Sue Thomas: FBEye ) is a Canadian-American television series that ran in the USA from 2002 to 2005 and in Germany from 2011. It is about the real, deaf FBI agent Sue Thomas, who isportrayedby the deaf actress Deanne Bray .


  • My gateway to the world of the deaf , non-fiction book for children, Austrian Association of the Deaf (Ed.) Vienna, 2004, ISBN 3-200-00063-5
  • Wolfgang Müller, Deaf Music, Die Tödliche Doris in sign language design. The "translation" of the music and texts of the group's first LP from 1981 into signs and signs by two sign language interpreters on DVD with book. Edition Kroethenhayn, Berlin 2006.
  • Irene Leber, Jörg Spiegelhalter: The mini gesture song book. Sing with your hands. Loeper, Karlsruhe 2004. ISBN 3-86059-127-4
  • Oliver Sacks: Mute voices. Journey into the world of the deaf. Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2001. ISBN 3-499-19198-9
  • Nora Ellen Groce: Everyone spoke sign language here. Hereditary Deafness on Martha's Vineyard Island. Translated from the American by Elmar Bott. Signum, Seedorf 2006. ISBN 3-927731-97-8
  • Susan Schaller: A life without words. Knaur, Munich 1992. ISBN 3-426-75002-3
  • DAS ZEICHEN, magazine for language and culture of the deaf, Hamburg, ISSN  0932-4747
  • Christian Kleiber: Hanna Hasenöhrl,, children's book ISBN 978-3-00-029741-0
  • Bruno Griesser : Unprinted texts on sign language in the monasteries , in: Analecta Cisterciensia 3 (1947), pp. 111-137. Web page access page 111 to page 137
  • Julia Saarinen: Olaf Hoppel and the secret language . myMorawa, Großebersdorf 2018. Children's book. ISBN 978-3-99070-557-5

Web links

Commons : Sign Language  - collection of images and videos
Wiktionary: Sign language  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Further links can be found under DGS , DSGS and ÖGS .

Individual evidence

  1. 5 dialects of the DSGS : [1] , 5 dialects of the LSF-SR : [2] , 2 dialects of the LIS-SI : [3]
  2. In the DSGS, on the other hand: 1-GIVE quickly -2 BOOK (analogously: "I-give (quickly) -dir book")
  3. Stokoe, William. 1960. Sign language structure: An outline of the visual communication systems of the American deaf. Buffalo: Department of Anthropology and Linguistics, University of Buffalo.
  4. ^ Fabian Bross & Daniel Hole: Scope-taking strategies in German Sign Language . In: Glossa. A Journal of General Linguistics, 2 (1): 76. 1-30
  5. Penny Boyes Braem, Tobias Haug, Patty Shores: Sign Language Work in Switzerland: Review and Outlook . In: DAS ZEICHEN, magazine for language and culture of the deaf , Hamburg, ISSN  0932-4747
  6. Bross, F. (2014): Iconicity in Sign Languages. A linguistic discipline between the modality effect and the question of ideology . In: Critical Edition. Journal for German Studies & Literature, 26. pp. 95–100.
  7. Boyes-Braem, Penny: Introduction to Sign Language and its Research . Signum, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-927731-10-2 , pp. 124 ( [PDF; accessed February 25, 2019]).
  8. cf. also Boyes-Braem, Penny: Introduction to Sign Language and its Exploration . Signum, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-927731-10-2 , pp. 126 ( [PDF; accessed February 25, 2019]).
  9. Kegl, Judy A. & Howard Poizner. 1991. The Interplay between Linguistic and Spacial Processing in a Right Lesions Signer. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 13 (1). 38-39.
  10. Kegl, Judy A. & Howard Poizner. 1997. Crosslinguistic / Crossmodal Syntactic Consequences of Left-Hemisphere Damage: Evidence from an Aphasic Signer and His Identical Twin. Aphasiology 11 (1). 1-37.
  11. ^ Corina, David P., Ursula Bellugi & Judy Reilly. (1999): Neuropsychological studies of linguistic and affective facial expressions in deaf signers. Language and Speech 42. 307-331.
  12. ^ Elisabeth Leiss: Philosophy of Language. W. de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2009, p. 265
  13. Hamburg notation system for sign language
  14. Valerie Sutton website , uploaded on March 13, 2014
  15. Boyes-Braem, Penny: Introduction to Sign Language and its Research . Signum, Hamburg 1990, ISBN 3-927731-10-2 , pp. 148 ( [PDF; accessed on February 18, 2019]): "Although these systems use the visual-manual channel and borrow many signs from sign language, they must not be confused with sign language."
  16. ^ University of Hamburg
  17. Magdeburg Stendal University of Applied Sciences
  18. ^ Westsächsische Hochschule Zwickau
  19. ^ Humboldt University of Berlin
  20. Sign language interpreting - Idstein - Master part-time. (No longer available online.) In: Hochschule Fresenius, archived from the original on June 18, 2016 ; Retrieved June 18, 2016 .
  21. Offer. In: Bavarian Institute for the Promotion of Communication for People with Hearing Impairments, accessed on June 18, 2016 .
  22. Sign Institute Baden-Württemberg , accessed on June 18, 2016.
  23. Sign language on the Kleine Fächer portal . Small subjects job, accessed on April 23, 2019.
  24. ^ Bavarian Ministry of Culture ( Memento from December 17, 2008 in the Internet Archive )
  25. BGSD e. V. , accessed on June 18, 2016.
  26. Smart gloves for the deaf, August 13, 2017, accessed on August 18, 2017.
  27. SIgnAll. Retrieved May 13, 2019 .
  28. Simax | Home. Retrieved on February 7, 2020 (German).
  29. #Success Story: SiMAX shows what cannot be heard | FFG. Retrieved February 7, 2020 .
  30. The first "talking" chimpanzee is dead . , November 1, 2007; accessed March 13, 2014
  31. Bonobos and chimpanzees communicate more flexibly with their sign and body language than with sounds and facial expressions . Focus, May 1, 2007; accessed March 13, 2014
  32. Sign language in the Internet Movie Database (English)