Public Release: 

Danish researchers pioneer comparative research on sign language

How many sign languages are there in the world? How many people use them? How are they structured? How strong are they, and what are the attitudes of the users (and others) to their languages?

Aarhus University

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IMAGE: This image shows Julie Bakken Jepsen, Ph.D. student and William B. McGregor, professor in Linguistics, co-editors of the book "Sign Languages of The World -- A Comparative Handbook. " Julie shows... view more

Credit: Johanne Vejrup

The book presents basic facts and structural aspects of sign languages, and the social, cultural, political, and historical contexts in which they are used. It is intended to provide deaf communities, scholars, students, professionals working with deaf people, and a general audience with a resource of both linguistic, anthropological, political and historical issues on sign languages and their users.

Sign languages are natural and complete languages.

"Sign languages are natural and complete languages and include all the complexities that spoken languages have. You can express everything in sign language: Slang, slips of the hands just like in spoken languages" says associate professor and head of department Peter Bakker, Section for Linguistics, Aarhus University.

The handbook includes chapters of 38 of the world's 170 known sign languages such as Danish Sign Language, Brazilian Sign Language, Inuit Sign Language and the first description ever of Kurdish Sign Language. The chapter is written by Zana Jaza (Section for Linguistics) who is currently writing his MA-thesis on Kurdish Sign Language. The book also includes a section on alternate sign languages used by hearing people such as signs used by some aboriginals in Australia during time of mourning of the loss of a spouse, or hunting signs used by bushmen in Botswana.

Over 70 deaf and hearing scholars have contributed to the volume. Covering about a quarter of the known sign languages of the world, the editors have been inspired by a desire to stimulate further research and to foster awareness of the diversity of sign languages and deaf communities around the world.

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Sign Languages of the World - A Comparative Handbook, Ed. by Jepsen, Julie Bakken / De Clerck, Goedele / Lutalo-Kiingi, Sam / McGregor, William B., De Gruyter Mouton.

Deaf Studies:

There are about 170 sign languages in the world according to the database http://glottolog.org/

In Denmark there are about 4000 deaf people who use sign language as their mother tongue. (Source: Deaf.dk)

In 2014 Danish Sign Language was politically approved as a minority language.

In 2015 Aarhus University hosted a Summer School about Deaf Studies.

In 2017 the international conference Deaf Academics is planned to take place at Aarhus University.

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