German Sign Language

German Sign Language
German Sign Language
Deutsche Gebärdensprache, DGS
Signed in Germany
Native signers 200,000  (date missing)
Language family
German Sign Language family
  • German Sign Language
Language codes
ISO 639-3 gsg

German Sign Language or Deutsche Gebärdensprache is the sign language of the Deaf community in Germany. It is often abbreviated as DGS. It is unclear how many use German Sign Language as their main language; Gallaudet University estimated 50,000 in 1986. The language has evolved through use in deaf communities over hundreds of years.


Recognition of German Sign Language

Germany has a strong oralist tradition and historically has seen a suppression of sign language. German Sign Language was first legally recognised in The Federal Disability Equality Act (2002) in May 2002.[1] Since then, deaf people have a legal entitlement to Sign Language interpreters when communicating with federal authorities, free of charge.[2]

Very few television programs include an interpreter; those that do are the news and a news "round-up". There is at least one programme conducted entirely in German Sign Language called "Sehen statt Hören" (Seeing Instead of Hearing), a documentary-style programme produced by the Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) and broadcast on Saturday mornings on Bayerischer Rundfunk and the other regional state broadcasters in Germany.

German and German Sign Language

German Sign Language is unrelated to spoken German. The two have very different grammars, though as the dominant language of the region, German has had some influence on German Sign Language. A signed system that represents the German language has been developed, which is known as "Signed German" (Lautsprachbegleitende Gebärden, Lautbegleitende Gebärden or LBG, meaning "sound-accompanying signs"). It is rarely used as a natural means of communication between deaf people. Another system of manually representing German is cued speech, known as "Phonembestimmes Manualsystem" (Phonemic Manual System). Similar systems that represent the English language are known as Manually Coded English.

Manual alphabet and fingerspelling

Ä in DGS

German Sign Language uses a one-handed manual alphabet ('Fingeralphabet' in German) derived from the French manual alphabet of the 18th century; it is related to manual alphabets used across Europe and in North America.

Dialects and related languages

Regional variants of German Sign Language include Hamburg, Berlin, and Munich sign. Sign languages of regions in the former East Germany have a greater divergence from sign languages of the western regions; some may be unrelated. Polish Sign Language is descendant from German Sign Language. Israeli Sign Language may be as well, as it evolved from the sign language used by German Jewish teachers who opened a school for deaf children in Jerusalem in 1932, and still shows some resemblance to its German counterpart. It is not related to Austrian Sign Language, which is used in parts of southern Germany, nor to Swiss Sign Language, both of which are part of the French Sign Language family, though they have had some influence from German Sign Language.

Notation systems

Everyday users of German Sign Language use no written form of the language. In academic contexts, German Sign Language is usually described with the Hamburg notation system or HamNoSys. SignWriting also has its adherents in Germany.


The grammar of German Sign Language may be described in terms of the conventional linguistic categories phonology, morphology, morphosyntax and syntax.


Signs are made up of a combination of different elements from each of the classes of distinctive features: handshape, hand orientation, location and movement. If one of these elements is changed, it can result in a sign with a completely different meaning. Two signs differing in only one element are deemed to be a minimal pair. German Sign Language uses 32 handshapes, of which six are basic handshapes found in all sign languages.

Two-handed signs are signs which are necessarily performed with both hands. Their formation is in accordance with certain phonotactic limitations, such as the rule of symmetry (when both hands move at the same time, they have the same handshape) and the rule of dominance (if the two hands have different handshapes, only the dominant hand is moved while the non-dominant hand remains passive).

Uninflected lexical signs in German Sign Language have at most two syllables. Syllables consist of two syllabic positions, described as Hold (H) and Movement (M). Holds consist of the handshape together with the hand orientation (together referred to as the hand configuration) at a specific location in signing space. Holds do not contain any change of location (movement from one location to another). Movements, on the other hand, involve a change of location and may involve secondary movements such as wiggling of the fingers. Syllables may then be grouped into the following types: M (the minimal syllable), HM, MH, HMH (the maximal syllable). In the case of HM syllables, for example, the hand configuration of the Movement moves away from the location of the Hold. A syllable of type M can consist of the following specifications: a path movement (from one location to another), a path movement with secondary movement (such as wiggling or twisting), or a secondary movement without path movement. The syllable type H (a segment without a Movement) is not allowed for phonotactical reasons.

An elementary component oflexical signs are non-manual lexical markings, such as movements of eyes (rolling, widening), mouth (puffing, rounding) and face, as well as the whole head (nodding, tilting) and upper body (leaning). These are obligatory accompaniments of a quarter of all lexical signs. Making visual syllables with the mouth is referred to as mouthing.

Further reading

  • "German Sign Language Dictionary" - Maisch, Günther, and Fritz-H. Wisch (1987–89). Gebärden-Lexikon. Hamburg: Verlag hörgeschädigter Kinder.
  • "German Sign Language" Rammel, Georg (1974). Die Gebärdensprache: Versuch einer Wesenanalyse. Berlin-Charlottenburg: Marhold.
  • "Signed German" Hogger, Birgit (1991). Linguistische Überlegungen zur lautsprachbegleitenden Gebärdung. Hörgeschädigtenpädagogik, v.45 no.4, p. 234-237

External links


  1. ^ "ANED - countries - Germany - Facts and figures". Retrieved March 20, 2011. 
  2. ^ Deutscher Gehörlosen-bund e.V.

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • German Sign Language — ISO 639 3 Code : gsg ISO 639 2/B Code : ISO 639 2/T Code : ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Living …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • Swiss-German Sign Language — ISO 639 3 Code : sgg ISO 639 2/B Code : ISO 639 2/T Code : ISO 639 1 Code : Scope : Individual Language Type : Living …   Names of Languages ISO 639-3

  • Sign language — Two men and a woman signing. A sign language (also signed language) is a language which, instead of acoustically conveyed sound patterns, uses visually transmitted sign patterns (manual communication, body language) to convey meaning… …   Wikipedia

  • Israeli Sign Language — language name=Israeli Sign Language, Shassi nativename=שפת הסימנים הישראלית śfàt ha simaním ha iśraelít שס י shássi [abbr.] states=Israel signers=10,000 (approximately) family=descendant of German Sign Language iso3=isrIsraeli Sign Language, or… …   Wikipedia

  • French Sign Language — language name=French Sign Language caption=LSF in French manual alphabet nativename=LSF, langue des signes française fam1=Old French Sign Language states=France, Switzerland, Mali, Rwanda, Congo, Togo, Vietnam signers=estimated 80,000–300,000… …   Wikipedia

  • Hungarian Sign Language — language name=Hungarian Sign Language nativename=Magyar Jelnyelv states=Hungary region=Throughout Hungary, with possibly a few signers in western Romania signers=60,000 family=Related to Austrian Sign Language and German Sign Language; some… …   Wikipedia

  • Austrian Sign Language — language name=Austrian Sign Language nativename= Österreichische Gebärdensprache (ÖGS) familycolor=Sign family=Unknown states=Austria iso2=sgn|iso3=asq|Austrian Sign Language, or Österreichische Gebärdensprache (ÖGS), is the sign language used by …   Wikipedia

  • Nicaraguan Sign Language — Idioma de Señas de Nicaragua, ISN Signed in Nicaragua Region The Managua region, but spreading throughout the country Native signers 3,000 (estimated in 1997; no official census da …   Wikipedia

  • Chilean Sign Language — Signed in Chile Native signers – Language family unclassified Language codes ISO 639 3 …   Wikipedia

  • Language contact — occurs when two or more languages or varieties interact. The study of language contact is called contact linguistics. Multilingualism has likely been common throughout much of human history, and today most people in the world are multilingual.[1] …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”