Penny Boyes Braem

Penny Boyes Braem completed her MA at Harvard University and her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley with Dan I. Slobin and Ursula Bellugi (Salk Institute) as advisors. For her MA thesis, she did one of the first studies of the acquisition of the handshape in ASL (Boyes Braem 1990b). Her doctoral dissertation looked at the issue of iconicity by analyzing iconic metaphors and metonyms underlying conventionalized ASL signs (Boyes Braem 1980).

Since 1974, Boyes Braem has lived in Switzerland. From 1982-86, she was director of the first sign language interpreter training program in the country (for Swiss French Sign Language in Lausanne/Geneva). In 1982, she founded the FZG in Basel, through which in the following years she has done studies of several aspects of Swiss German Sign Language and of hearing persons' gestures, often in collaboration with colleagues and institutions from Switzerland as well as from Italy, Germany and England. From 2000 – 2007, Boyes Braem was the founding director of GS-Media (Zurich), a private association which developed CD-ROMS and books documenting Swiss German Sign Language (See Bibliography). From 1993 – 2010, Boyes Braem was a board member of the Verein zur Unterstützung der Gebärdensprache, VUGS (Zürich). In 2014, Dr. Boyes Braem received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Zürich.

Research interests

One of Boyes Braem's early research interests in Switzerland was comparing the forms of signing used by early and late learners of Swiss German Sign Language Deutschschweizerische Gebärdensprache, DSGS, with particular attention paid to their use of silent 'mouthings' of German-like words as well as rhythmic body sways as prosodic markers. Another research focus has been the lexicon, describing both the language's 'every day' conventionalized signs as well as equivalents for technical terms. The problem of how to write this visual/corporal language has been explored in projects using special notation systems (SignWriting, HamNoSys), as well as the use of media-tagging programs such as are used in the University of Hamburg's 'iLex' corpus lexicon software.

Another research focus has been to use methodologies and models developed for analyzing signed languages to the gestures which orchestra conductors make with their non-dominant hand, as well as to how non-signers interpret (as gestures) signs from a European sign language. Currently, she is doing a study with a colleague from Bristol University (Rachel Sutton-Spence) comparing the products and the processes of creating sign language poetry by deaf poets and pantomimic skits by hearing mimes.

Publications (see Bibliography)

Boyes Braem has published numerous articles on sign language and gestures (see Bibliography) as well as three books (Boyes Braem and Sutton-Spence 2000; Boyes Braem 1990/1995; Loncke, Boyes Braem, Lebrun 1984). From 1983 – 2010, she was editor (or co-editor with Benno Caramore) of the Information-Heft Series published by the Verein zur Unterstützung der Gebärdensprache (VUGS) Zürich.

Teaching and Guest Lectures

Boyes Braem has taught sign language linguistic courses to students in interpreting and sign language teacher training in Switzerland, and has given courses and invited lectures on sign language linguistics at several universities in Switzerland and abroad.

Advisory and Consultation Activities at the doctoral level

Doctoral Dissertations at the Universities of Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Klagenfurt, Rome, Dublin, Zurich, Neuchâtel.

Committee Member

The FZG is associate member of the Zürich Kompetenzzentrum für Linguistik (ZüKL) /  Zürich Competence Center for Linguistics of the University of Zürich.

Scientific Committee for the DGS-Corpus Project, Universität Hamburg / Akademie der Wissenschaften in Hamburg (2010-present).

Programme Committee, Workshops on Sign Languages and Corpora Language Resources and Evaluation Conference (LREC). IREC 2012, IREC 2014, IREC 2016.

Programme Committee, Theoretical Issues in Sign Language Research (TISLR) Conferences.

Organizing Committee, International Conference, 'From Hand to Mouth: A dialogue between spoken and signed language research', ZüKl, Universität Zürich (5.-7. Sept. 2013).


Sarah Ebling (iLex-CH, DGS-DSGS lexical comparison, semantic analysis)
Dr. Sarah Ebling is a linguist with specialization in computational linguists. Her doctoral dissertation project, Trainslate, developed an automatic translation of German train announcements into avatar signed DSGS equivalents for Smartphones. Ebling has been a key figure in making the migration of the existing DSGS FileMaker databank into its current iLex-CH form. She has collaborated with Boyes Braem on several presentations and papers and as a member of the Oversight Committee of iLex-CH continues to act as specialist for ongoing iLex-CH projects.

Simone Girard-Groeber (iLex-CH, conversational analysis)
Dr. Simone Girard has worked on several projects in which the FZG has participated (e.g. the Weblexicon for Technical Terms). A specialist in conversational analysis, both her Master’s and PhD dissertions, as well as a recent Swiss Science Foundation project have involved investigations of DSGS at the discourse level. She is in the Oversight Committee for the ongoing iLex-CH project. Currently, Girard is Scientific Collaborator at the Institute for Integration and Participation at the FHNW School of Social Work in Olten

Lorenz Nagele Website for Lexicon of Technical Terms [Fachgebaerden Lexikon]
Website for Lexicon of Technical Terms [Fachgebaerden Lexikon]
Lorenz Nagele is studying Computational Linguistics and General Linguistics at the University of Zurich. With his experience in web development he reprogrammed the website using up-to-date technologies.

Tanja Rissi (iLex Annotation, HamNoSys )
Tanja Rissi is a DSGS interpreter. She provides expertise for projects involving HamNoSys form notation and iLex annotation.

Sandra Sidler (HamNoSys)
Sandra Sidler is a trained and experienced teacher of Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS). As a researcher, she has worked with Boyes Braem on several past projects, including the DSGS-lexical research databank and on a CD-ROM with a lexicon for primary school age children. She is well known in Switzerland, as she has been the video model for several sign language products, not only of those produced by or in collaboration with the FZG but also current for the SGB-FSS's learning online learning lexicon of DSGS. Sidler is also an experienced notater of signs using the Hamburg Notation System (HNS). She is currently working on the FZG project that is continuing the HNS notation of all the 9000 signs in the research lexical databank, in preparation for its being exported into iLex form. Sidler is a native DSGS signer. Sidler continues to provide HNS notation for DSGS signs in the iLex-CHlexicon through projects of the FZG and other institutions.

Katja Tissi (iLex Annotation)
Katja Tissi has worked over many years on several FZG-related projects. She is also an experienced teacher in the DSGS interpreter training program. Tissi is in the Oversight Committee of the ongoing iLex-CH project and, as a native signer, often acts as consultant for a wide variety of DSGS questions.


Richard Bowden (University of Surrey): SMILE Project.

Mathew Magimai Doss & Oya Aran (Idiap Research Institute, Martigny, Switzerland): SMILE Project.

Tobias Haug (University of Applied Sciences of Special Needs Education in Zurich, HfH)
Dr.Tobias Haug (Fachhochschule für Heilpädagogik Zürich, HfH) is a specialist for research on sign language interpreters and sign language assessment. SignMet Project, Sign Repetition Task Project, SMILE Project, iLex Corpus-DSGS.

Thomas Hanke, Reiner Konrad, Gabriele Langer, Dolly Blanck (University of Hamburg, Institute of German Sign Language and Communication of the Deaf): HamNoSys, iLex, Corpus Linguistics Language Comparison.

Rachel Sutton-Spence (Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil) Deaf Poets and Hearing Pantomime Projects.

Virginia Volterra (Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, CNR, Rome): Papers and research on language research and language community change, sign language and gesture.

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