German Sign Language

Many people mistakenly think that German sign language is simply German expressed by means of signs and gestures. Some think it is a type of manual code for speaking German. They think German Sign Language (DGS) is only able to express tangible things or that there is a universal sign language which is used and understood to the same degree by people with a hearing impairment all over the world.

Over the last three decades, however, modern linguistics has proven on a global basis that the national sign languages used by deaf people are by no means inferior to spoken languages when it comes to their complexity and power of expression. This is also true for DGS. It is not signed German or signs and gestures to accompany spoken German - it has its own grammar and its own specific vocabulary. Learning DGS means learning the language as well as its grammar and vocabulary in the same way as you would learn spoken German.

One obvious difference between DGS and German relates to the modalities. Whereas spoken language uses the ear and the speech organs, DGS is a visual language. It uses the human body as its means of articulation. Gestures expressed using the hands placed in front of the upper body, i.e. the signs themselves, play a particularly important role. Furthermore, facial expressions and the position of the head and body are usually used at the same time as movements of the hands to express grammatical features and functions. Less obvious here is the fact that many grammatical structures in DGS are subject to rules and principles which differ from those of spoken German.

Person to contact

Person to contact: Dr. Astrid Buschmann-Göbels

Please send all questions and queries to the above email address.


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