Recent Presentations and Courses

Presentations at the 2016 LREC Conference:
Boyes Braem, P. & S. Ebling. "Preventing Too Many Cooks from Spoiling the broth: Some Questions and Suggestions for Collaboration between Projects in iLex".
Ebling, S. & Boyes Braem, P. "Linking a Web Lexicon of DSGS Technical Signs to iLex"

Collaboration with Project 'SMILE' for the development of automatic sign recognition and sign language testing techniques (Swiss Science Foundation 'Sinergia' project, 2016-2019).

Collaboration with EU project 'SignMET' for developing common methodologies and evaluation tools (2014-2015)

Lecture at Clasta (Communcation & Language Acquisition Studies in Typical & Atypical Populations) (Rome 2015) - "The use of Signs by Deaf and Hearing Children

Two lectures at CNRS /Université Paris (January 2015)
- "Comparing Products and Process of Creating Sign Language Poetry and Pantomimic Improvisations" (with Rachel Sutton-Spence)
- "Example of a Gesture System: Orchesrtral Conducting" (with Thüring Bräm)

Conference: "From Hand to Mouth: A dialogue between spoken and signed language research", International conference for young academic researchers with lectures, poster presentations and discussion session.  5. - 7. September 2013. ZüKL, University of Zurich.

Course (Boyes Braem): "Overview of Research on Signed Languages of the Deaf," Department of English, University of Basel, Fall Semester 2012.

A Corpus Lexicon of DSGS in 'iLex' form

Building up a corpus-linked lexicon has been a longstanding goal of the FZG. In 2015, the existing large FileMaker based DSGS lexicon was converted to an iLex software with the assistance of Sarah Ebling (Institute for Computational Linguistics, University of Zürich) and Thomas Hanke (Hamburg University). The aim of this corpus lexicon is not only to provide researchers with uniform glosses for and detailed information about each lexical item but also documentation of their use in a wide variety of linked annotated videos. The expandable corpus can be ‘mined’ for many different kinds of research questions. Selected parts of the lexicon can be directly uploaded to on-line products. This corpus can also serve as an archive for filmed data on DSGS. ILex-CH is currently hosted on a University of Zürich server. The ‘iLex-CH’ corpus lexicon is currently being expanded with annotated videos from both old and new projects. A framework has been set up for the use of iLex-CH by different kinds of users involved in separate research and development projects from the FZG and other institutions.

Technology for Sign Language Learners

SMILE (Scalable Multimodal sign language technology for sign language Learning and assessment) is a Swiss Science Foundation Synergia project beginning in 2016 for which the FZG is supplying some DSGS data as well as linguistic consulting.

Language Comparison

Lexical comparison of German Sign Language (DGS) and Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) together with Sarah Ebling (University of Zurich) and Reiner Konrad and Gabriela Langer (both University of Hamburg).

On-Line Lexicons for Technical Terms

New domains currently being planned for entry into the on-line lexica directly linked to iLex include place names, proper names of well known persons, linguistic terms, medical terms and legal terms.

Hamburg Notation System (HamNoSys)

The FZG is continuing to support the ongoing HamNoSys notation of all entries in the DSGS databank. This is being done by an experienced HNS notater, Sandra Sidler. A special set of signs necessary for a current project of the University of Zürich, 'Trainslate' is also being incorporated into the larger iLex-CH research databank, which is currently hosted on a server of the Institute for Computer Linguistics of the University of Zürich.


Deaf Poets and Hearing Mimes

In collaboration with Rachel Sutton-Spence of the University of Bristol and Swarthmore College where she in 2012 organized a deaf sign language poets festival, a study has been made comparing how skilled sign language poets and professional hearing mime artists build up and portray performances based on the anthropomorphisation of a given set of ten inanimate objects, ten animals and ten abstract ideas or qualities. (Sutton-Spence & Boyes Braem 2013)

Age of acquisition

The first large FZG research project was a Swiss Science Foundation project (1990-1995), which looked at the influence of the age of acquisition by comparing the type of signing done by early and late learners of DSGS. (Boyes Braem 1995).

A Multimedia DSGS-German lexical databank for research purposes

In the 1980s and early 1990s,  there were for DSGS, as for many other sign languages, no dictionaries. This was a major impediment to research which for analyses depends on some kind of written form of the language. But the lack of dictionaries is also significant as it is known that languages, whether they be spoken or signed, which have no written forms and especially no dictionaries, are held in lower esteem by the surrounding society. This has consequences for the lives of the users of non-written languages. A Swiss Science Foundation research project (1996-2001) established the first lexicon of DSGS in the form of a multimedia bilingual (DSGS-written German) research databank. The databank documents the form (with five regional dialects and generational variations) as well as all the meanings of each sign. When possible, semantic or grammatical modifications of the sign are also noted. The original project collected 3000 conventionalized signs used in everyday signing (Boyes Braem 2001). However, although primarily a research databank, it has also served over the following decade as a tool for the creation of learning materials (GS-Media CD-ROMS and books). The production of these materials involved collecting new vocabulary, including signs for some technical fields, all of which is also stored in the databank. At the present time, the databank has approximately 9000 entries (including variations). The data is in a FileMaker database form, but is being transferred into a corpus lexicon 'iLex' form. Both forms of the databank are currently stored on a server of the Institute for Computer Linguistics, University of Zurich and available to a restricted set of trained researchers.

A Weblexicon for technical terms in DSGS

This project was an expansion of the lexicon of 'everyday' signs to include signs for terms in two technical fields: economy and nutrition. The form of the lexicon is a website ( This was a two year Swiss Science Foundation project in collaboration with the Hochschule für Heilpädagogik Zürich and the Swiss Deaf Association (SGB-FSS). The linguistic aspects of the project are discussed in Boyes Braem, Groeber, Stocker and Tissi 2012. This website was completely reprogrammed in 2016 so that the relevant information is accessed directly from the iLex-CH corpus lexicon.

Semantic Relations

Identifying and Comparing Semantic Relations across Signed and Spoken Languages
(In cooperation with University of Zurich, City University London, Macquarie University Sidney).

Notating and writing signed languages

Written forms of this visual/corporal language has been an ongoing concern of the FZG, as it as for all sign language researchers. (Boyes Braem 2012).

• HamNoSys (HNS)

The FZG has over the years helped organize and participate in workshops and provided information on HNS as well as employed a trained HNS notator in a continuous project to provide all DSGS signs in the research databank with a HNS Notation. Funding for this continuous notation has been in part supported by the Verein zur Unterstützen der Gebärdensprache. In the past couple of years, the DSGS notater (Sandra Sidler) has been able to work with an experienced HNS notater from Hamburg, Dolly Blanck.

•SignWriting (GebärdenSchrift)

In addition to the use of HNS for machine-searchable notations of the form of signs, the FZG felt that there was also a need for a written form for 'everyday use' which would be easier to learn and to read. A Swiss Science Foundation (DORE) SignWriting project (2001-2002) with the Hochschule für Heilpädagogik Zürich together with GS-Media and the FZG produced two book+videotape sets (see 'Bibliography-Products') which documented two signed stories fully in SignWriting as well as in German glosses and German translation.

SignWriting notations were also made of the 3000 vocabulary items in the lexicon included in  the four  learning CDs produced by GS-MEDIA for the Deaf Association's sign language courses (Gebärdensprachkurs Deutschschweiz: Stufen 1-4, as well as a CD with vocabulary and exercises (Vokabeltrainer); See Bibliography - Sign Language Products-CD-Roms)  The notation of this vocabulary set is also on the SignWriting website.

Together with Sarah Ebling of the Institute for Computational Linguistics (University of Zürich), the FZG is currently involved in a pilot project to investigate the possibilities of converting SignWriting symbols into HamNoSys symbols.

Image below: Illustration from the "Noah and the Ark" book with SignWriting transcription of the original DSGS signed story.

'Mouthings' in signed languages

A study comparing the different forms and functions of voiceless 'mouthings' of spoken-language-like words in the signing of early and late learners of DSGS. (Boyes Braem 2000a, Boyes Braem & Sutton-Spence 2000b, Boyes Braem 2006).

Prosody: Rhythmic body movements

The use of rhythmic left-right body sways by early learners of DSGS, as compared to non-rhythmic sways of late learners. (Boyes Braem 1999).

The Sociolinguistic/Political Situation of Swiss Signed Languages

• A comparison of the situation of sign languages and Rhaeto-Romance in Switzerland. (Boyes Braem, Caramore, Herman, Shores Hermann 2001).

• The transmission of signed languages in Switzerland (Boyes Braem 2009, Boyes Braem and Rathmann 2010).

• A look back at 25 years of sign language research and programs in German Switzerland (Boyes Braem, Haug, Shores 2012).

Sign Language Dialects

A comparison of three Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS) dialects (Boyes Braem 1983, 1984a).

Sign Language Linguistics for a broader public

When the FZG was founded in the early 1980's there was a general lack of information in German on sign language linguistics. For this reason, Boyes Braem wrote an introduction to sign linguistics which was first published in a information series put out by the Verein zur Unterstützung der Gebärdensprache (1984-1986), and was then revised and expanded and published in book form (Boyes Braem 1990a).

Sign Language Learning Material (GS-Media Products)

The DSGS research databank has been used over the years not only for research but also as a tool for the production of a series of publically available sign language products in book and CD-ROM form. These products were made by GS-Media in Zürich, a non-profit sassociation founded and directed by Boyes Braem in 2002. Most of these products were developed in cooperation with different institutions and supporting groups, including the FZG. In 2007, GS-Media was dissolved and all of its products given over to the Swiss Deaf Association (SGB-FSS) for distribution and further development.

See 'Bibliography: Sign Language Documentation and Learning Materials' for sign language products produced between 2002-2007.


The methodologies and models built up over the years for the analysis of signed languages can was applied to other forms of visual/corporal communication (and combined with theories from cognitive linguistics) in the following studies:

• The Perception and interpretation of signs by hearing and deaf in 7 European countries (Boyes Braem 1998, Boyes Braem, P., Pizzuto, E. & Volterra, V. 2002

• Analysis of the non-dominant hand gestures of orchestral conductors (Boyes Braem and Bräm 2000).

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