Ca' Foscari publishes the first Italian Sign Language grammar in Europe

Edizioni Ca’ Foscari has published the first descriptive grammar of Italian Sign Language, which is available in an open-access digital format.

A Grammar of Italian Sign Language (LIS), edited by Chiara Branchini and Lara Mantovan, is the first volume in the new series Lingue dei segni e sordità (LISS) published by Edizioni Ca’ Foscari, under the supervision of Anna Cardinaletti (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice) and Sabina Fontana (University of Catania). It is the first reference grammar of LIS (Italian Sign Language) which describes language phenomena which have never been described before and uses a language which is understandable to a non-specialised readership to explain grammer properties which so far have only been published in specialised publications or transmitted orally. The book, which has over 800 pages, is a grammar reference for a wide readership and aims to offer a description of, and a reflection on, the Italian Sign Language that can be appreciated by LIS students, professionals (interpreters and communication assistants) and students or adults, Deaf or hearing, who use it. It is not a traditional grammar book, but a digital tool which includes 1,451 videos, 712 images and 2,367 examples which respect the visual nature of the language and which will contribute to the promotion of knowledge of LIS inside the hearing community.

Ca’ Foscari University has always invested a lot in the promotion and studying of LIS. The teaching of LIS at Ca’ Foscari began in 1999, and last year an interpreting course was activated in Treviso in the Master’s Degree Programme “Interpreting and Translation for Publishing and for Special Purposes”, in collaboration with the Department of Asian and North African Studies.

This LIS grammar book is one of the outcomes of the Horizon 2020 “SIGN-HUB” project, which lasted 4 years and, among others, involved the research group of the Department of Linguistics and Comparative Cultural Studies of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice. 

Editors Chiara Branchini and Lara Mantovan were assisted by Elena Fornasiero and Chiara Calderone, senior researcher and junior researcher in Modern Languages, Cultures and Societies and Linguistics at Ca’ Foscari, as well as by Alessandra Checchetto and Carlo Checchetto (University of Milano-Bicocca) and Mirko Santoro (CNRS Paris). 

Seven Deaf consultants made themselves available for the collection of data and the recording of video and photo samples. These consultants are: Gabriele Caia, Mirko Pasquotto and Filippo Calcagno of Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Antonino D’Urso, Anna Folchi, Mauro Mottinelli and Rosella Ottolini.

The languages involved in the Horizon 2020 SIGN-HUB project are seven  – in addition to Italian, there are Catalan, French, Dutch, Spanish, German and Turkish  – but the Italian grammar is the first one to be published by a publishing house. 

The grammar is divided into six parts. Part one introduces the reader to the historical and social background in which LIS has developed; the remaining five parts describe the main properties of Phonology, Lexicon, Morphology, Syntax and Pragmatics. Thanks to the electronic format of the publication, there is a close link between the text and the videos. Therefore, this is not a “traditional” grammar, but a product characterised by hyperlinks that allow the user to move easily from one part to another, to explore a concept in greater depth and to be supported in understanding it by numerous examples in videos and images. Consider the difficulty in describing, for example, exclamatives, imperatives or relative clauses for which a sign language equivalent requires the use of specific facial expressions – this grammar is innovative because it allows users direct access to the language.

Branchini and Mantovan are currently working on the Italian translation of LIS grammar, so that it can be more easily accessed by the Italian Deaf and hearing communities.