Sign languages in Switzerland

There are about 10,000 completely deaf people in Switzerland. Three sign languages are used:

  • Swiss German Sign Language (DSGS), divided into five dialects.
  • French Sign Language (LSF)
  • Italian Sign Language (LIS)

There is similarity to the sign languages of the neighboring countries Germany, France and Italy. Linguistic research is in progress. In this case, the differences between the various sign languages are not very great, so that deaf people can communicate across language barriers (see Sign Lexicon).

Efforts are underway to officially recognize sign languages as languages. Already, government agencies are committed to addressing the special concerns of the speech-, hearing-, and visually-impaired: for example, the federal government’s website features videos with a small selection of information. Since 2007, national television stations have broadcast at least one program per day in sign language.

Threatened with extinction?

Today, most deaf children receive a cochlear implant when they are about one year old. This is a hearing prosthesis for deaf people whose auditory nerve functions normally. Since sign language is not promoted with these children, it could be considered endangered. However, many deaf people do not see it that way, as they still use sign language in some form.

Source: Boyes Braem, Penny. 2009. Übermittlung der drei schweizerischen Gebärdensprachen.

More information about Wycliffe Switzerland’s commitment to the deaf on request.

Photo (Elise Patten): Deaf Bible translator Sanjay from India performs an entire Bible passage by heart on camera. The green background is replaced with images and visual effects during editing.