Little is known about the development of sign languages due to a lack of historical documentation: there was not and is no common written form for any sign language. So anyone who wants to trace their origins should look for similarities between existing sign languages. However, comparing signs is much more difficult than comparing spoken words. An international research group from the USA, France and Finland has now developed a computer-aided method and examined the relationships between 19 common sign languages, including German Sign Language.
Linguist Natasha Abner of the University of Michigan and her team limited themselves to comparing words: they collected the basic vocabulary of the 19 sign languages in the video dictionaries, for example signs for “man,” “woman,” “old,” and “new.” “Live” and “Play.” Each sign was given a code containing its distinguishing characteristics: the shape of the hand, its position, any movements, and whether one or both hands were involved. Body posture, facial expressions, and mouth movements also contribute to determining the meaning of a gesture; However, they were not taken into account, and were not graphic gestures. Because these do not arise by chance, thus similar figurative gestures also occur in languages that are not related to each other, for example pronoun words such as 'I' and 'you', whose gestures consist of pointing the index finger towards oneself or displaying the other person.
Based on the similarities between the signs, the research group calculated the similarities between the languages. Like it in »Sciences“I mentioned that the 19 sign languages can be assigned to two independent families – one European and one East Asian. There was no evidence of long-term contact between them: they clearly evolved largely without being influenced by each other, as geography and history suggest. The East Asian family is divided into two branches, the Chinese and Hong Kong sign languages on the one hand and Japanese and Taiwanese on the other.
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