1. Welcome

These pages contain a basic grammar of Catalan Sign Language (LSC), dealing with some of most important aspects. Owing to the format features, and also because this is the first grammatical description of LSC, it does not aim at being all-inclusive. We hope that the efforts invested in the completion of this work may stand as a starting point for other partial research projects on specific aspects of LSC grammar.

These pages on LSC grammar is addressed to LSC users interested in knowing the basic grammatical features of their language. For that reason this grammar will be useful to deaf primary and secondary education students, and useful as well to their LSC teachers to whom it may serve as support material for the preparations of LSC classes. This grammar will of course be useful also to any person wanting to acquire essential knowledge on the structure of LSC, either for professional interpreting purposes or with the aim research, or simply for the love of knowledge per se. Bearing this in mind we have tried to make grammatical descriptions as simple as possible from the technical standpoint.

This work is presented mainly in Catalan Sing Language, translated into several oral languages such as Catalan, Spanish and English. It is organized according to the headings listed above. Each thematic section starts by a theoretical explanation always illustrated by a set of examples. Each section is in turn divided into a number of subsections that deal with more specific aspects of the topic being dealt with.

Grammatical items are not separate isolated issues, and more than once in the text devoted to one subject area we will be referring to another because some specific relations exists. This will be done by means of a hyperlink in the written text and will be graphically referred by underlining. You will also find some terms highlighted in bold print –in that case the words are included in the grammar’s glossary section. When you click on the term a window with the sign will open. As an alternative option, all the signs of the glossary can be viewed by clicking on the corresponding icon on the screen.

Because the use of glosses involves the previous knowledge of conventions used in the study of LSC, we have exclusively used spoken language translation that in some cases is one possibility of many. The translation then does not correspond to the gloss, but rather to the sign in that sentence specifically.

The working screen is organized as follows: in the upper area we find the different chapters that constitute the grammar. Upon clicking any one of them, we access the first page or the chapter selected. On the left side of the screen we have the index for the thematic section selected. As each thematic section is divided into subsections, direct access to each one is possible simply by clicking on each one.

2. Sign Language

The language studied in this material is Catalan Sign Language, which is the sign language used by the population of deaf signing persons in Catalonia. Despite the general belief, sign language is not one single universal language used by all deaf people en the world, but rather a whole spectrum of sign languages that have each evolved following their own historical processes, thus resulting in different languages such as LSC, LSE, BSL, ASL, LSF, etc., and also the dialectical variants of all these.

Sign languages and spoken languages share a number of features, because both types are natural human languages. However, there are many elements making theses two classes of languages different, and they ensue from the modality in which both kinds of languages are articulated and perceived.

Amongst the shared elements we should highlight the fact that both types of languages have a comparable structural organization, a fact perceivable after detailed analysis. Both employ the same type of grammatical units. Spoken languages uses phonemes and sign language uses the basic sign components. Oral languages, then, are made up of words and sign languages are made up of signs. In addition, both, use sentences as the basic structure constituting discourse.

This standpoint does not fit in with the general opinion according to which sign language is similar to mime, or that it is a simple translation of spoken language into a system of gestures. Indeed, the contents of these pages are organized according to the levels of language analysis we described.

We must also bear in mind that all natural languages are used by people with the aim of meeting the communication and expression needs of a given community. So then, in this sense, we could say that both types of languages are equally important and one is not “better” than the other. Considerations such as these are often more related to situations of social or political oppression.

3. Sign language and spoken language

One of the differences between sign and spoken languages lies in the extent to which specific grammatical categories are used in each. In sign languages, for example, space and movement relations are indicated in a much richer and varied way then is the case of oral languages, and the use of space with agreement verbs is essential. But such differences emerge whenever languages are compared belong to different modalities. Let us consider this in more depth.

Possibly the main perceived difference between sign languages and spoken languages resides in their production and perception channels, what is knows as modality. Spoken languages are perceived through the ear and sign languages are perceived through sight. Spoken languages are voice produced and sign languages are produced using the upper limbs, head, face and torso. Sign languages belong then to the gestural-visual modality, whereas oral languages belong to the oral-aural modality.

We mention the upper limbs as the essential feature for the production of sign languages because, as we shall see in the first chapter, there exists other sign components that are not precisely articulated through the hands and play however a basic role in the sign.

The difference we have just mentioned is actually showing yet another different modality regarding both types of languages, and this entails logical differences as to the expression of both. For example, sign languages use space in such a way that it makes the placing of objects and persons possible, and this is a feature specific to sign languages only that is not developed to the same extent or with the same clarity in oral languages. Furthermore, the fact that sign languages have a number of different articulators makes a greater degree of simultaneous expression possible, as compared with spoken languages.