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SignWriting and Swiss German Sign Language

Background and aims

This project represents the first attempt to write Swiss German Sign Language texts using 'SignWriting' notation. Although there is still no internationally conventionalized writing system for sign languages, 'SignWriting' represents internationally the most widely used system.


SignWriting dictionary and schoolroom projects are being carried out in Brazil, Germany, Ireland, Nicaragua, Norway, Spain and the U.S.A. The GS-MEDIA researchers in Zürich, together with a teacher-colleague in Osnabrück are the first to investigate the use of this writing system for sign languages in German-speaking countries.


This written form of Swiss German Sign Language will be useful to the following parties:

  • Hearing adults and orally-educated deaf adults wishing to learn this sign language.
  • Researchers interested in the morphosyntactic and prosodic structures of this language.
  • Deaf signers wanting to learn a way to write sign language texts, to document in their own language their signed stories, poems, theater pieces, history, etc.
  • Young deaf children who would be able to first learn to read through a language they can fully perceive and produce (sign language).
  • Sign language interpreters.


Videotapes were first made of two well-known Bible stories (Noah and the Arc, David and Goliath), told in Swiss German Sign Language. The original signed versions were produced on two videotapes with spoken German translation and subtitles. Accompanying these videotapes are two books with the SignWriting notation of the signed stories as well as a German translation. The books include original color illustrations of the story, a lexicon with illustrations and SignWriting symbols for 50 signs from the story, and a basic introduction to the SignWriting system.


  • Boyes Braem, P. (1995). Einführung in die Gebärdensprache. Hamburg: Signum.
  • Boyes Braem, P. (2001). Functions of the Mouthing Component in the Signing of Deaf Early and Late Learners of Swiss German Sign Language. In Brentari, D. (Ed.) Foreign Vocabulary in Sign Languages. Grammatical Constraints, Social Contexts. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum. Assoc.
  • Boyes Braem, P. & Sutton-Spence, R. (eds.). (2001). The Hands are the Head of the Mouth: The Mouth as Articulator in Sign Languages. Hamburg: Signum.



Project Management


GS Media

Financial support


Forschung und Entwicklung
Tel: +41 44 317 11 81

zfe[at] zfe